Hope at the heart of Foster House
4 November 2013
“Homelessness isn’t a disease…Everyone in this room may be only a pay cheque away from being homeless.” –Barry
Dressed neatly in a suit and tie, Barry told the crowd at the last Red Shield Appeal in Sydney: “I was much like everyone else in this room”.
Homeless for 12 years, the completion of a barista course (run by The Salvation Army) and kitchen experience has given Barry the confidence to manage a café at Waterloo Community Centre. The opportunity to run The Salvation Army café has, he says, changed the course of his life.
Before his spiral into homelessness, Barry had been married with children. He had been employed by an international construction company, and had worked around the world.
“But then suddenly my marriage was finished,” he says. “My kids were teenagers and at that stage they didn’t seem to want dad around.”
Soon after, Barry moved from Queensland to Sydney for a job, but the work dried up. Money ran short and he eventually couldn’t pay his rent. He summoned the courage to ask a clergy member for help, but says he was sent on his way.
“At that stage I didn’t know there were other people to ask for help and I come from a country background where you don’t talk about your problems,” he says.
Searching for an alternative
Barry found out much later that he was suffering from depression at the time, and decided his only choice was to “hop off the world”. So he did, living rough on the streets.
“It was pretty much one night sleeping in a bed, the next night sleeping on a park bench,” he says. “The first night it was cold. It was like sleeping in a freezer in your underwear!”
He didn’t claim benefits, he says, but learned to manage after being befriended by a small group of homeless people who taught him survival skills.
Together, the group would walk all night and sleep by day to try and stay safe and warm. They would wait outside clubs and pubs in the early hours of the morning until drunken patrons fumbled and dropped money from their pockets while waiting for cabs.
This was relatively simple, Barry says, because to many in mainstream society, a homeless person “basically becomes invisible”.
Then, after more than a decade of homelessness, he finally decided to try and seek help again and found an address for the local Salvation Army.
The Salvation Army’s Fire and Rescue NSW chaplains Majors Dawn and Lindsay Smith were special guest speakers at The Salvation Army Glebe Hall the day that Barry walked through the door.
They talked to Barry and immediately organised accommodation at The Salvation Army’s Foster House, which provides living skills training, recreational pursuits, case management, a medical centre and detoxification unit and accommodates around 126 homeless men each night.
“All my identification had run out so Foster House staff helped me find that,” says Barry.
“And there was a psychiatrist and doctors. The big thing is they never judged me. They cared and that’s what made the difference.”
Shortly after moving into Foster House, Barry asked whether there were any opportunities to volunteer. He was put in contact with Foster House head chef Kristoff May and began to work as a kitchen volunteer.
After completing a barista course, gaining both skills and confidence, he applied for a casual job at The Salvation Army Waterloo Community Centre.
The centre offers a cafe, drop-in centre, living skills programs, advocacy and referrals to the homeless and many who live largely isolated lives in the apartments that surround The Salvation Army centre.
Barry was soon promoted to a fulltime position as café manager and today is reunited with his family, living independently and sharing his story to offer hope to others who are in need.
“It’s onwards and upwards now,” Barry smiles. “I said at the Red Shield launch that it’s people who donate that helped me get to where I am. It does help change another person, it really does!”