From despair to hope in COVID times
27 July 2021
The containment response to the COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on the hospitality industry, forcing thousands of people out of work. Experienced chef, Manesh was one of the many people who suddenly faced an uncertain future when the lockdown took hold in 2020.
“My bosses called me and they took a minute and a half to tell me that I was not needed anymore. And that just mentally broke me down, I’d been there 14 years and they do that to me. They were not even paying me from their pocket, the government was paying [through JobKeeper].”
After months on JobKeeper, waiting for restaurants to re-open, Manesh was ultimately made redundant, leading to a mental break down.
“I started drinking too much. I ended up drinking like two litres of Bundy [Bundaberg rum] a day. Due to the mental break down, it was just like I lost hope, you know when you give up on humanity? I was nearly on the verge to commit suicide.”
Unaware that he was not eligible for Centrelink payments due to his redundancy payout, Manesh spent it paying off a loan – believing the sensible thing to do would be to clear all debt. Without any income and any means to support himself, he could no longer afford to pay rent. For Manesh, this was the last straw.
After finishing a litre of Bundy, a voice in Manesh’s head told him to go to the local police station. “I went there and these two cops came out and I told them ‘I’m either going to commit suicide or do something stupid’, and they sat me down and had a chat with me and they said ‘we’ll find you a place’.”
Staying at a friend’s house for two days while he waited for help, Manesh returned to the police station on the third day. “I went [there] again and they said, ‘do you think you are going to hurt yourself or anybody else?’. I said ‘I don’t want it to go to that stage, that’s why I’ve come here, can you put me in a rehab or something?’ I could see the way I was going.”
Manesh went to the hospital. They kept him overnight and put him in contact with a social worker. “She was like an angel in disguise. She took all the details and she called Salvos from there and that very night they arranged a place for me.”
HEART for the homeless
Manesh was given shelter at one of many motels that were used through the Homelessness Emergency Accommodation Response Team (HEART) Program. Set up by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), this program brought together homelessness funded services – including Salvos – to support clients in motels during the 2020 COVID lockdowns.
“On 8 October, at night I ended up at [the motel], there was this door that opened up to a balcony and there were these trees. I sat there and I just prayed and cried, and I’ve been clean since then.”
The Salvos supported Manesh to receive medical care, including dental treatment. He stayed at the motel for over two months before his Salvos case workers advised him he needed to move. Aware that he had no access to income, they arranged for him to stay at The Salvation Army’s short-term crisis accommodation through the Gateways program.
“I had completely lost hope and the way Salvos treated me, that restored my belief in humanity again. Hope is a beautiful thing. There are people out there who really do care, whether you know that or not.”
For Manesh, The Salvation Army not only strengthened his faith in humanity but also his faith in God. “[It] was the biggest reason that this thing became very strong in me. It just changed me. I had stopped eating. I didn’t used to eat food, I was drinking so much. My stomach had shrunk, my body had gone skinny …
“There are so many beautiful people in the world. When I didn’t have anything left, I didn’t even have hope left. I just wanted to kill myself, and then they support me in such a way that made me really positive and made me stronger day by day. I don’t know how this thing happened. It’s like God took me up from the spot which was a black hole and full of negativity. He picked me up and he just dropped me in a place where there was light … and I just had to keep on walking towards it.”
Since HEART and Gateways, Manesh has been clean, has put on healthy weight, is walking a lot and cooking for himself. His case officer, Deborah, has brought him bags of food and ingredients to assist with this positive lifestyle change.
In order to give back in some way, Manesh volunteered his time to cook for the homeless residents still supported at the motel over Christmas, which he describes as “a wonderful experience”.
“When I get back on my feet, I want to do something for the community, for the Salvos… volunteer with them. It’s just amazing, Salvos just trip me out – they’re so lovely. They are very beautiful, very wonderful souls. That’s what we need around the world, souls that are doing things unconditionally.
“The way the Salvos have supported me, that’s hope, that’s humanity in its purest form. To support each other and to support somebody who has lost everything.”