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Anna came out of jail with nothing. She knew she could come to Gatehouse for support, some clothing, food and toiletries to keep her going. We were also able to refer her to housing services.
Beth has moved away from the street scene. Recently she found out her ex-partner had died and was distraught that she didn’t have a photo of him. This is common for those on the street. Something we take for granted are the albums of photos we have of our loved ones. The first place Beth came to was Gatehouse. We take a lot of photos and were able to provide one for her. The comfort we saw it provide was humbling. We will be organising a memorial for her ex-partner, and assist Beth in organising a plaque to place in a church that had meaning for him.
Georgina has been on the streets for some time and gives the impression of being strong and tough. Georgina has been couch-surfing for 22 months since the break-up of her relationship. Lately she has been into Gatehouse in tears, feeling overwhelmed with her lack of stability and inability to ‘get it together’. Gatehouse put in touch with housing services and assisted her in the process of finding a place to stay. It says a lot about the trust she has in Gatehouse that she was able to open up to us.
Every Thursday night St Kilda Gatehouse serves BBQ sausages, burgers and salads to the members of the community we support. Volunteers join us and we congregate, stretched out on our comfy couches, to eat and chat in a rare “down” time – a chance to kick back and relax. It is a safe and warm environment, which is conducive to good conversation for all - clients, staff and volunteers. And we talk!
Recently the conversation turned to what we would have been if we had a second chance at life. One of our Support Workers was the first to volunteer that, if she had the confidence she now has in herself, she would have been a foreign correspondent – dodging bullets and reporting the local’s perspective on world events. Everyone joined it, telling of dreams and reflections on what could have been or what was but is no longer. As one of the women we support said, “If I knew then what I know now, I would have studied to be a pharmacist…” We also had a vet nurse and a chef in the room. That conversation was just one example amongst many of the individuality of every person we support.
I was a 13 year old boy when I started on the streets, trying to learn just how to survive out on my own. Since my younger days at primary school I was called by classmates “loner, loner, always on his owner”. Schools are normally hard for a lot of people, but to survive on the streets can be harder. Not everyone I’ve met has been good to me.
I was 18 when my sister came to live on the streets with me. She was treated bad by our father, who was an alcoholic and always took his anger out on both of us. We learned to trust only each other. I lost my sister when she was 24 years old to an overdose of heroin. It broke my heart losing her when she was all I ever had.
When I was on my own, not able to trust anyone, a group of people came to me one night saying they belonged to a small group named St Kilda Gatehouse. They showed me comfort, support, and real love. When I was incarcerated to a prison sentence, they would always send me someone to see how I was. It was great to get visits. For someone like me with no-one in my life who was sincere, well the Gatehouse people made me feel wanted again in life. I have been on the streets for 28 years and survived. God is on my side and for once in my life my partner, now of five years, is by my side. I now have a family and support plus a home and its all mine.
I am very proud of my stable life. My children are having contact with me and my son loves my new partner. Its now the best life I’ve ever had and I’m proud of my life now.
Susie struggles with mental health issues, has no family contact, and is often away from Gatehouse for long periods of time. When she does come in to Drop In she always says that Gatehouse is the only family she has. We provide not only food and other practical items, but love, hugs and support. Those important things can’t be quantified.
When Gatehouse first met Josie, her heroin habit was uncontrollable and she was involved in an abusive relationship. Josie had visited detox and rehab on a number of occasions, and even had a long period of being clean, where she began a Youth Work degree. She began to use again when a colleague offered her drugs to help “deal with the job”. Street sex work was Josie’s solution to supporting her habit.
In February 2012 Josie was hit by a car, which damaged her leg. She began to rethink her life as a sex worker, and sought real solutions to exit the street. Josie was one of our first clients for the Navigating a New Path (NANP) program. She was matched with a mentor who quickly became a close friend. Soon after Josie found out she was pregnant.
Josie was living in accommodation that was not suitable for a baby and was on high doses of pharmacotherapy and benzodiazepines. NANP staff linked Josie with housing agencies, the Women’s Alcohol and Drug Service, helped her attend appointments and supported her through detox. Baby equipment and clothes were sourced from St Kilda Mums. We then helped Josie move into her new property and set up a nursery. One late night in March, her mentor and a Gatehouse support worker were present at the birth of a beautiful baby boy, after 13 hours’ of labour.
The Gatehouse team and volunteers continue to support Josie with regular visits, emotional support and advocacy. It has been truly inspiring to watch this new family begin their life together away from the streets, against tough odds.
Navigating a New Path commenced in April 2012, supporting girls and young women at risk of, or already engaged in, street sex work.
Low and behold my friends I am Heroin
Known by all as destroyer of men
From where I come from no one knows
A far off land where the poppy grows
I came to this country without getting caught
And since that day I’ve been hunted and sought
Nations have gathered to plot my destruction
They call me the breeder of crime and corruption
My white little grains are nothing but waste
I am soft and fluffy but bitter to taste
Yes I am the scourge of all mankind
I’ve been to America and to Japan; I’m also welcome in Turkey and Iran
In cellophane bags I make my way
To men in offices and children to play
From heads of states to lowest bum
From the richest estate to the lowest slum
I take a rich man and make him poor
I’ll take a maiden and make her a whore
I make a woman forget their looks
I’ll make a student forget their books
I can make you steal, borrow or beg
Then search for a vein in your arm or leg
Once in your bloodstream you’ll think me not mean
You’ll praise me as master and nod in a dream
My gift is illusion, my blessings a fake
Death and destruction follow in my wake
My friends are many but I’m loyal to none
I’ve come to destroy and my work must be done
You’ve heard my warning but will not take heed
So put your foot in the stirrup, mount this great steed
Get in the saddle and hold on real well
For the white horse of heroin will take you to hell
All up, I have spent 10 years working as a prostitute on the streets of St Kilda, selling my body on a daily basis to support my heroin addiction.
In the beginning of the 10 years, I was doing my best to hold my life together but bit by bit as I fell more and more heavily into my addiction I lost everything: contact with my son, my home, my family and friends and my possessions.
Finally I lost hope and self respect. I was homeless with nothing and felt like such an outcast from society and so down on myself that I was working constantly night and day making more and more money for drugs to numb my pain.
Deep down I knew if I kept my lifestyle up it would kill me. I wanted to make changes in my life but I was scared and I didn't know how to.
Over the years I had tried to get help but nothing worked. It was a very dark time in my life.
I heard through other girls on the streets about a place called Gatehouse where you could go for a coffee, a feed and, if you felt like it, a chat.
To be honest, initially I was suspicious of these people. I wondered why they would want to help us and what they were getting out of it.
Slowly I started going there and what I find was a friendly, non-judgmental place with people who really cared about me and actually listened. Amazing!
Over time I got to know and trust the people at Gatehouse.
They even came and visited me regularly in prison over a 2 year period when I had no one else come in that whole two years. Do you know how special that makes you feel to know someone cares?
With the help of that support, I decided it was time to make some major changes in my life. I was ready!
Today I have a nice flat, contact with my son and my family. I no longer work the streets, I have a mainstream job, a relationship and I am completely drug free and I am happy.
To be honest I don’t think it would have been possible without Gatehouse. How can you care about your life when no one else does.
Gatehouse offers love, support practical advice and most importantly hope. With all my heart thank you Gatehouse.
What made you go there instead of your bed? You looked like you were sleeping but I know you are dead, sitting spread-eagled on a public toilet seat, dried blood on your arm, cold vomit on your feet.
You smiled all the time, you said you were fine. But the pain you were numbing pushed you over the line. I just can't believe that your life was in vain. So young, so much living when free of the pain - But nobody tells you how hard life can be, so you thought maybe death was a chance to be free.
Cos it's hard when you're down and living on the street, everyone sneering 'no shoes on her feet'. Such a disgrace the junky, mum, whore, not the sort decent people ever let in the door. But you - you were beautiful, not a drug wrecked whore.
And for just a short time I had the pleasure to know, that beautiful smile, always free with the hugs. I swear I believed you would kick all the drugs.
I'm a little bit angry, I need you still here, it was often your words that kept me from fear. Eyes so full of life, how could I not have a clue - that you my dear girl were so close to the edge. You went into rehab, you lasted a while, but then all of the problems they started to pile.
Your beautiful body you sold on the street. Only heroin can turn woman's flesh into meat. Smiling at strangers paying for lust, for a hit up your arm of that precious white dust.
How could it be that a girl who's so brave, gave all that was good just to be a slave? Did you think you were stronger- that you had control? Not now my dear, it took body and soul.
Alone in a toilet, girl with gold hair, you had no one with you, no one to care. I just can't believe that I'll see you no more, you big, bright and beautiful blonde headed whore. But you're not really gone and you are not really dead. My sweet dear young girl will always live in my head.
From the time I found Gatehouse I was treated as a real person. After many years of being in boys’ homes and jail the last thing that I needed to hear was that everything was going to be alright, because it was not going to be alright. I was sleeping on the street. Anywhere I could lay down without being disturbed or woken up to a surprise. My partner was at snapping point. Stress plays a very big part in one’s life when you are roughing it. A food parcel from Gatehouse was enough to get us through a couple of days – and for those couple of days we ate like lord and lady muck.
Its now seven years later. I have met a lot of people through the Gatehouse. It’s a tight community. A respectful and truly awesome atmosphere. In a simple way respect given is respect earned – so its an area that is peaceful, dignified and most of all safe.
The streets can be a rough place at the best of times – that is where Gatehouse makes the difference. Without the help from friends (the staff) I don’t think I would’ve gotten to the stage I’m at now in my life. They visited me when I was in jail and encouraged me to persevere and not give up when my back was against the wall and feeling as if the whole world was against me.
If I had a windfall tomorrow there would be a donation made to them, no name, just a thank you for the support, encouragement and helping me find the real me and not the front that I hold up to show I’m tough and nothing will get through my skin.
I don’t have a family to turn to when the tough times come. But I have Gatehouse. They have become a second family to me and countless others. I commend them and all the volunteers who’ve passed through their doors for their hard work in providing a better future and safe environment for us all.
“In St Kilda, the streets were I work, I am stripped of my womanhood, denied my safety, a slave to my addictions and forced to service men, night after night, day after day, every season of the year. But coming to SPARKLE on a Monday I meet women who actually care about me, who make me feel beautiful, who restore part of my womanhood and who dare to touch my feet. I walk in feeling like a worthless tool and walk out feeling like a million dollars” ~Street Sex Worker in St Kilda.
I have worked with SPARKLE and the sex workers of St Kilda for over two years now, and I love it. The goal of the program is summed up in what this woman said when asked what she thought of SPARKLE.
On Mondays we go down to the Gatehouse and set up a mini spa equipped to do manicures, pedicures and massage beauty treatments. This outlet allows us to build relationships with the women who go to Gatehouse, speak messages of hope and beauty into their lives and sometimes pray for them - but our main goal is to honour and love them like no one else does.
I have countless stories of the way these women respond. They get a chance to feel safe and open up and I love them for it! I love doing this it has become one of my most favourite parts of my week. These women are precious and my hope is that SPARKLE can continue to be a constant reminder of their beauty and worth, that through a simple of act of painting nails we can continue to open the door to their hearts and demonstrate God’s heart and love to them.
I recently started volunteering at the Gatehouse at the Community BBQs and absolutely love it. I attended the fundraising dinner last year and was inspired by what I heard and saw. I decided I wanted to be a part of this fantastic organisation and to help out in some small way. After only three months I have begun to know some beautiful people, who are truly amazing, especially for their survival through such difficult lives. When I return home I lay awake worrying about the women I’ve chatted with and hope that they will get through the night and that I will see them again. I have also been trying to collect make-up, clothes, bags, shoes and any other bits and pieces that might be of value to the women who come along. Friends and family help me - even my son's kindergarten teacher has donated bags and bags of makeup and toiletries! I thank everyone at the Gatehouse for giving me the opportunity to volunteer with this amazing place.”
St Kilda Gatehouse 2017 - 2019 Strategic Plan
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