Shining a light into the darkness
3 December 2012
“You just look at some of the kids [and others on the streets] and think, ‘how can you possibly get through this life’… when they’ve been brought up with violence, abuse from quite a young age. They have never had that role model, or that person who comes into their lives and says, ‘you know, there is another way’.” – Envoy Rosemary Richardson, Salvation Army chaplain
On Wednesday and Friday nights, while many of her colleagues are finishing work for the day, Salvation Army Oasis chaplain Rosemary Richardson and a team of volunteers pack into the service’s coffee van and take to the inner-Sydney streets.
Carrying street swags, blankets and, sometimes, warm clothes, they take tea and coffee to the “locals” of Darlinghurst, Kings Cross and Woolloomooloo, often working deep into the night. Most importantly, Rosemary says, they offer a hand of genuine friendship.
The team, which operates from the van but also walks the streets to meet and greet, can plan to a point, but, Rosemary laughs, “there is definitely no such thing as a ‘normal’ night!”
Working with many people who are chronically homeless, addicted and suffering from complex mental health issues can be a challenge.
“There are even people on the streets who used to be solicitors, high-flyers who have lost everything,” says Rosemary. “They have ended up on the streets and I think it is very necessary that they have a support system to help get them back on their feet. We are the frontline workers.”
The Night Watch
Rosemary says the night watch service’s “team effort” offers those they meet access to other services at Oasis, including case managers, psychologists, education and training, emergency accommodation, or referrals to drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
For some, those referrals can be the start of a new and healthier life path.
The harsh reality of her work means Rosemary hears almost unimaginable stories of childhood and ongoing violence, abuse, pain, parental addiction and need. “Stories of bashings, overdoses and death are all too common,” she says.
“There is one sex worker, for example, who as a young child was brought to Australia and ended up in a child sex racket – virtually kidnapped!
“We have this great picture that we can help people and we can help set them up in new lives. In some cases we can, but the truth of the matter is that many of these people have such huge, deep-seated issues in their lives.
“They tell you some terrible things and sometimes all you can do is be a true friend.”
It is a hard road, Rosemary says, and it takes a lot of “endurance and a lot of faith”. But transformations do occur.
“I come across people I haven’t seen for a while, and they will come up and give me a hug and tell me they are no longer taking drugs and it is so heartwarming,” she says.
“We’ve recently seen a young fellow turn his life around. He has a little bit of a part-time job and has come to have a faith in Jesus. I’ve been to court with him, other people at Oasis have helped in other ways and all of a sudden he’s much more stable.
“Yes, he’s got a long way to go, but he’s got his driver’s learner’s permit. He used to drive stolen cars. Now he’s driving the proper way,” Rosemary laughs.
“But he’s come through. It is amazing.
To me that is the ultimate outcome!”
Link to the streets
At the time of printing, Envoy Rosemary Richardson has followed her calling of chaplaincy into a role with Aged Care Plus in Parkes, NSW. However, the chaplaincy service at Oasis continues.
“The Salvation Army has worked on the streets for many years, providing a light in the darkness to those that many have forgotten,” says Major Robbin Moulds (AM), Director of Oasis Youth Support Network, Surry Hills.
“Rosemary has been a light in the darkness for many people in the city of Sydney, giving her unique blend of care, passion and strength, mixed with her great sense of humour.
“Chaplaincy at Oasis is our link to the streets, keeping that sense of community where there is no community. It is so important that there is somebody out there in the night, being that light in the darkness.”