Giving hope and a helping hand is all in a day’s work for Maria, a life coach based at Canice’s Kitchen serving people who experience homelessness or isolation in Darlinghurst, east of the Sydney CBD.
Despite coming into the new role during the pandemic, Maria has already helped a number of people get into permanent employment who were living on the streets, and helped one young homeless man to reunite with his estranged family overseas.
And she’s helped countless others with smaller but no less important goals, through small group classes and one-to-one meetings.
“Life coaching here, and I don’t really like that term, is just about meeting people where they are at, who are prepared to co-operate to work at some positive change …”
Something as simple as reducing the number of spoonful of sugar in one’s cup of coffee can be a meaningful accomplishment for some guests at Canice’s.
“Life coaching here, and I don’t really like that term, is just about meeting people where they are at, who are prepared to co-operate to work at some positive change that they want in their life whether it’s to lose three kilos or get a job or anything that is important for them to try to achieve,” Maria told The Catholic Weekly.
“It’s about giving people hope and confidence, and being very compassionate and flexible with our expectations of them because if they could always do what they set out to do perhaps they wouldn’t be standing in the space they are in.
“So patience and compassion, but also holding them to a level of accountability.”
Maria’s work has made her familiar with the complex reality of homelessness and the many ways people can end up living on the streets or in other vulnerable situations often through difficult circumstances and no fault of their own. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing they can do to gain some control of their situation particularly if it is unsafe or unstable, and often Maria is able to put Canice’s guests in touch with organisations or individuals who can help with problems that may have seemed intractable.
With her signature brightly coloured outfits, Maria exudes a friendly but no-nonsense aura and has plenty of practical wisdom gained from her own life experience and Catholic faith.
“… you have to find out what the need actually is, it’s not always obvious from what they first tell you, you have to get to know them and peel back the onion a bit.”
She will be often found striking up a conversation with guests at Canice’s. “The first thing is to build trust, if they don’t trust you they aren’t going to make an appointment with you,” she explained.
“Then you have to find out what the need actually is, it’s not always obvious from what they first tell you, you have to get to know them and peel back the onion a bit.
“With the goals I’m a bit careful in that I do set a three month goal because we have to move things along, we’re not just here to party. I tell them you have to have goals, you have to have outcomes.”
Community manager Carrie Deane said that Maria is an amazing asset to St Canice’s parish-based outreach.
“She is able to connect with people on such a personal level and really go deep and find out what they need,” she said.
“Despite the limitations of the pandemic restrictions and lockdowns since she’s started working with us here, she has facilitated some extraordinary successes. One big highlight, getting one of our homeless guests home to his family in Taiwan was just incredible and had us all crying.”
“Today a small number of paid support staff offer 50,000 free
home cooked lunches every day of
the week …”
The life coaching service is just one of a raft of expanded community support offerings at the vibrant drop-in space which started out decades ago as a simple soup kitchen offering lunchtime sandwiches and other simple fare to the homeless and others experiencing disadvantage and isolation.
Today a small number of paid support staff offer 50,000 free home cooked lunches every day of the week, renovated toilets and showers, toiletries, medical, mental health and legal support, life coaching and other support on a shoestring budget thanks to teams of dedicated volunteers from across Sydney including from Catholic parishes and schools, other community partners, and grant funding.