Satisfaction from helping others, Meet Ian

Rex & Ian

It was the promise of a hearty meal served with a smile that first drew Ian to Rosies in Caloundra.

“It was a Tuesday night, and I heard the local Bowls Club provided hot meals to Rosies. I was struggling financially, so went down and it was good to be around people and share a meal,” Ian remembers. “The food drew me in, but I stayed for the conversations,” he said.

Four years on, Ian still comes down to Rosies to see familiar faces and help those who are socially isolated or newly homeless. “When I come down now, I might be given a meal, but I don’t need it, so I’ll take it to a few older people that I often go and visit. One man who I visit, I first met through Rosies, but he’s got health issues and often sits in his flat alone, so I make sure I go and visit him, take him to the beach or the Monday breakfast put on by the church,” he said.

Ian continued, “There are a number of people in town who are homeless or lonely and a lot of the older people come down for companionship and the volunteers always ask after them if they are not there. One thing I really admire is the commitment volunteers put into making Rosies what it is, a community. The altruistic nature of the people who go there is great to see – the general vibe is good.”

Ian was first introduced to Rosies in 2000 when he arrived in Caloundra with his wife and new baby, “I’d see the van out on the streets on a Friday night and think isn’t that something, but it wasn’t until much later that I went to visit them myself,” he recalled. Ian worked as a roofer until an injury in 2001 caused him to break some vertebrae and lose sight in one of his eyes, “If you’ve only got one eye you can’t work on a roof, it messes with your depth perception. All of a sudden, I couldn’t do the trade I was trained to do.”

After his accident, Ian found it hard to manage living on a pension, “I was used to working and having money, so I found it difficult to support our family on a pension and wasn’t good at budgeting with limited resources. Eventually, my marriage broke down in 2005 and I moved to Hervey Bay.”

Ian moved back to Caloundra in 2006 and eventually became homeless in 2015. “I was living in my car at this point, and it broke down one Thursday in front of a church that was serving an evening meal and they invited me in. That was my first introduction to the number of services that operate in Caloundra,” he said.

There are a number of services that support the Caloundra community and over the last three years Ian has gotten to know them well, “I’ve gotten to know the volunteers at the Salvos, Vinnies and the Caloundra Community Centre and I have some flyers printed up about the different services available here and I hand them out to new arrivals. I live in my van so I move around a bit, you can’t stay in one place too long, so I meet a lot of people.”

Ian & his van

Ian acts as an unofficial ambassador for Rosies, encouraging those who he meets to come down to Felicity Park for a cuppa and a chat. “I know people who are working and are lonely, they just sit in their homes, and I say come to Rosies and they’ll say, ‘that’s for poor people’ and I say don’t eat just come for a chat.”

One of the biggest challenges facing people who are experiencing disadvantage or social isolation is the stigma that often comes with it, Ian does what he can to try and remove that from the people he meets. “A lot of people don’t want their situations to be broadcast- single mothers, young people, old people, people struggling with mental health and drug addiction. Rosies is nonjudgmental and if you’re doing it tough, Rosies can and will help you. There is a lot of drug addiction in town and the young people don’t know how to work and they feel a bit hopeless, but Rosies keeps showing up. These people reject society, but they always come to Rosies.”

Rosies is something that people who go there like to look after and they (the patrons) especially look after the people who are volunteering. It’s a good gentle caring vibe. It’s not just a meal, it’s about connection and friendship, I love catching up with the volunteers and the other patrons and making sure they are OK.

While Ian might not be able to build houses anymore, he’s found other ways to occupy his time and help people in the process. “Last year I did a survey with the Caloundra Community Centre around disaster management preparedness for homeless people with the local council. All around Australia people are becoming aware that homeless people don’t have much of a voice and I’m helping to change that.”

After his work on the survey, Ian was invited to complete two courses, one through the University of Sydney around disaster management and preparedness and the other through the Council to Homeless Persons in Melbourne. “The disaster course is really focused on getting people to prepare a plan on how they will manage a disaster, particularly those who have a disability. Homeless people often aren’t thought of during a natural disaster as they
have no fixed address, might have a lack of information on what’s coming or where to go, especially if you’re living in a tent out bush and have no way to charge your phone.”

Ian continued, “The second course is basically public speaking for people with lived experience. After I finish the course I’ll go into places like Centrelink, the banks, the Housing Department, and local councils and chat to them about some of the reasons people are homeless and the common issues we face like losing your bank card or ID or not having your birth certificate etc. People who work in these fields can get compassion overload and they can switch off, so educating and meeting them is very important.”

The work that Ian is doing at the Caloundra Community Centre is vital for improving the lives of those who are experiencing disadvantage. Though his life in Caloundra looks different than when he first arrived in 2000, Ian has a unique outlook and a genuine desire to help those around him.

Homelessness is a big problem and there is money being thrown at it but it’s a societal problem. There are a lot of reasons that people need services like Rosies, you take a step down one path and it’s really hard to get back from. You don’t have to do this by yourself. I used to get satisfaction out of building someone a house but now I get satisfaction from helping others.