There are smiles, hugs and handshakes when the StreetMed team set up its service in the shadow of Leigh Memorial Church in Parramatta on Tuesday. For many of the people who arrive it is a weekly opportunity to check on their health, catch up, and find someone who wants to listen.
Next week marks five years since Winston Hills paramedic Chris Cleary set up StreetMed to provide basic first aid and health check-up services to homeless people.
In that time, her team has seen more than 10,000 people from Parramatta and Blacktown to the Hills and Hawkesbury. They check blood sugar levels and blood pressure and chat to those who come. During the day, their advocacy role kicks in as Chris works hard to sort out some of the myriad of problems the homeless people they see are facing. She was on the street herself for a few years after leaving home at 18. Now married, with a young son, the trained paramedic and SES volunteer, was determined to give back.
“I have been there and I knew there was a gap in services.” She and her team treat minor injuries, spider bites and refer clients when needed.
“No-one is ever born wanting to be homeless,” she said. “These are the most resilient people I know.”
Nick Cruikshank. Is 45 and has been homeless, for long and short periods, since he was 15.
“I come here every on Tuesdays to catch up with friends,” he said. “You get a health check and you can get some food.”
A very bad cycle accident in 1999 left him with a severe head injury and broken bones. He was unable to return to work. His wife left him, he lost his son and his home. He has since used his skills to build himself a boat to live on after 12 years of being homeless.
“When you are on your own you see a lot of people on ice and it’s dangerous. Most people on the street look out for each other it’s a close community. “
StreetMed volunteer Wayne Farran joined the team in the footsteps of his 15-year-old daughter Claudia who was volunteering as part of her Duke of Edinburgh Award community work. Both have stayed. Dad and daughter help out on Fridays at Blacktown together but now Wayne also comes on Tuesdays to Parramatta.
“I felt good that the people we interact with leave with a sense of worth.”
In summer the Tuesday night combination of StreetMed health checks and the Coptic Christian Food Truck attracts between 50 and 60 people in winter and up to 90 in summer.
Charles is 72 and a regular who was riding the train system to keep warm before he was found an affordable housing unit.
“My wife and I were running a business but it collapsed in a heap. We borrowed too much money and couldn’t afford to pay it back. She took the rest of the money and the kids.”
For a while Charles was helped by friends and then ended up in crisis housing for nine months before riding the trains.
“I would ride the trains to Woy Woy and Hornsby just to keep warm. They would stop at 4am. I only had to wait about an hour until the Blue Mountains trains started.”
About 95 per cent of the people StreetMed see are men, typically between their mid 30s and 60s.
Sandra Turner has been volunteering with StreetMed for three years. “The patrons know what we are there for them, some of them are very lonely. She says there are so many reasons why people are homeless, with mental illness and domestic abuse high on the list. You learn not to judge, everyone has a story.”
Chris Cleary takes Nick's blood pressure at the StreetMed table on Tuesday.