Someone who has come to know many of Sydney’s homeless population is Bishop Terry Brady. Not only has he come to know those in the vicinity of St Mary’s Cathedral, but also those who visit the Matthew Talbot Hostel in Woolloomooloo, where he has celebrated Mass on a regular basis for many years.
“You never know if these homeless people might be Jesus in disguise,” Bishop Brady said. “You just never know who it is when you pass someone in the street, or who that person is sleeping under those blankets.”
“You’ll find most priests in Sydney would know many of the homeless people. Whether you’re in a parish or elsewhere, they come to your door. Often seeking assistance or sometimes just to say hello because you’re one of the few people they know.”
Bishop Brady says that for most homeless people the main issues they face are mental illness and loneliness.
He believes there are many contributing factors that lead to homelessness including the closure of psychiatric facilities, the breakdown of the family unit, the more casual nature of relationships and marriage.
“Therefore both men and women, and even more so women now, are on the streets,” he says.
“They just can’t hold down a job and a lot of them are so broken anyway. Many young people don’t come from stable family backgrounds. In the past the family unit would have kept an eye on them but a lot of that has broken down now. People seem to be busier and those people just fall through the cracks.”
In a positive development, Bishop Brady said the debate last year over what to do with the rough sleepers in Sydney’s Martin Place led to the formation of an alliance between Catholic charitable organisations, called the Rough Sleepers Taskforce. Bishop Brady says this is a major step forward in combating homelessness.
“CatholicCare, St Vincent de Paul, St Vincent’s Healthcare, the Mercy Foundation, and a few others formed a group. For the first time these Catholic groups are actually working together to tackle the problem of rough sleepers.”
As Catholics, Bishop Brady said, it is important to always have a deep faith underlying our outreach to the poor and homeless. “With this Taskforce, the thing we’ve got to focus on is making sure we keep that spiritual heart. Any group that comes out of the Catholic faith has to have a deep spiritual faith. If it hasn’t, what’s the point?”
He said remembering to “show kindness to people” and to put something in the Poor Box every time we go to Mass, are just two simple ways people can help the homeless.
He also emphasised the many important lessons that the homeless can teach us. “The greatest gift they gave me is the understanding that you never know where you’ll find Jesus.”
Donate to Bishop Richard Umbers at the 2018 Vinnie’s CEO Sleepout: www.ceosleepout.org.au/donation
Related story: Youth, older women fastest growing among homeless