As a Community Development Worker, I want to make a change. I want to help those that are struggling, with big or small struggles – I’m not picky.
Some of those that are struggling in our community are the residents in social/public/affordable housing. Sometimes, they need more than just support in affording to keep a roof over their head. Sometimes, they need help dealing with some big issues, and sometimes issues that seem small. Often times, they don’t know where to get that help, and are too socially isolated to try.
Earlier this month, I began an outreach service at a public housing estate close by. The idea was to take my laptop and my work, and work out of the common room on the estate. Residents could come and see me at their leisure, have morning tea and a cuppa, say hello, or talk to me about anything. I wanted to remove the difficulty in accessing help for residents, not just those with mobility issues, but those that are isolated, and those that just wouldn’t think to ask for help, or even know where to go.
I popped a note in their letterboxes the week before to let them know I was coming, and then crossed my fingers on the day that someone would turn up.
Well, I turned up – and there were people waiting for me. I went inside, set up, got the morning tea things out, made my first cuppa, and started chatting. And you know what – not only was I chatting (one on one for the most part), but the residents were chatting, laughing, and interacting together as well. It was fantastic to see.
Previous attempts at engaging the residents with movie mornings and other structured events had received a small attendance, and generally the same few residents. This time – I had eight residents sitting in the (usually empty) common room. A few other people stuck their head in, thought it was a bit crowded, so I popped outside and had a chat with them there.
During the three hours I was there, I signed two residents up for an Opal Card, activated one Opal Card, and set someone up on Facebook. What we might think of as small struggles. I took some questions about Housing and their units, and arranged support and meals for a resident going in to have major surgery – big struggles! And I saw that even dealing with the small struggles made a big difference in the lives of these often isolated people.
I had many conversations, made cups of tea and coffee, and watched many others have conversations. They watched TV together, had a laugh together. Offered support to each other. Connected. And asked me when I was coming back. To me, it sounded like success.
So what lessons did I take from my day?
I learnt that sometimes, people don’t need a structured activity to interact – they just need a place to go, and a reason to go there.
I also learnt that the small things that we take for granted (like having an Opal Card, or a Facebook account to keep in contact with a child in America) can be a huge thing to someone else.
My last lesson was that connection with others is a huge thing – it really can light people up. I could see it on their faces, hear it in their voices.
And the best part? When I finally got them all out of the common room, and packed up – there they all were, gathered at their post boxes, still chatting and laughing. Connecting.