This week the Matthew Talbot Hostel celebrates 50 years of helping Sydney’s homeless at its Darlinghurst premises in Talbot Place. The hostel, run by the St Vincent de Paul Society, is a wonderful example of how vision can transform the simplest idea into something that changes lives.
The original premise was to provide a meal and a bed to the homeless men of Sydney and the fundraising which flowed initially provided 11 beds and 100 meals a day.
But as our understanding of homelessness developed and we realised we had a duty to provide more than just a meal and a bed, so too has the hostel’s vision of what it can offer grown.
It now provides 98 beds and 620 meals a day – but it is much more than just meals and beds, however important these basic necessities are.
Now it also offers clothing, showers, basic medical and specialised health care, legal and housing support, counselling and advocacy, as well as a welcoming environment for people who no longer have the warm embrace of family.
There’s a professional music studio and equipment all overseen by Vlad, whose twin passions of music and counselling are helping release inner trauma amid beautiful sounds.
The art room, where people can paint, potter, sculpt and create, is uncovering incredible artistic ability and the gym, run by the powerfully gentle Colin, builds comradeship through exercise.
The computer room helps those at the margins find a way back into society by learning skills we all take for granted and the hairdressing ‘salon’ – cannily crafted out of an underused cleaning room – offers the luxury of a cut, wash and blow dry. It is run by a local hairdresser who donates time to give back some dignity.
An industrial kitchen teaches cooking, nutrition and meal planning and provides an important opportunity for people who have become isolated to break bread as a family.
It also allows many the chance to reduce debts owed to the State Government by taking part in educational programs that empower them to change their lives. The NSW Government Work and Development Orders help them learn life skills while reducing their debt.
And while the accommodation is only for men, women are welcome in the other facilities, including the Women’s Loft, which offers group therapy in a secure place.
In answering the simple question originally put to St Vincent's: ‘can we do something for the homeless men of Sydney?’ the Matthew Talbot Hostel has provided a constantly evolving response.
I mentioned in Parliament this week that good fortune is not just a function of hard work, but sometimes, good luck. So too, misfortune can so often be the product of bad luck.
People unlucky in mental health, relationships, family and upbringing need just the kind of help offered at the Matthew Talbot Hostel to turn their luck around.