Opening our doors to those in need

Shane Austin


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For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.

South Australia is sweltering. The temperature has soared past 40 degrees Celsius, and no cool breezes provide relief from the sudden heatwave. Many people will go home to the comfort of air conditioning or perhaps even swim in their pools to escape the heat. But for the 400 plus people who are sleeping rough, finding shelter to escape the heat is a difficult task. 

The extreme heat has prompted the South Australian Government to call for a Code Red— meaning Baptist Care SA’s WestCare Centre will set up 45 portable beds in an air-conditioned chapel and remain open to provide safe overnight accommodation, cold water and meals to those experiencing homelessness. 

It’s lunchtime on the second day of Code Red and Baptist Care SA’s West Care Centre has remained open since 1pm the day before. Outside, people are relaxed and sitting around tables to enjoy their meals, while instinctively understanding who wants to chat and who wants to be left alone. On the surface, a sense of togetherness is evident – a camaraderie amongst a group who are in a safe space where they are known by their individual names and cared about without judgement.  

Inside is a team of dedicated volunteers replenishing their stock of bottled water as they wait for the delivery of more ice. Over the three days Baptist Care SA responds to Code Red; they will give away almost 700 bottles, most of which donated in response to a call on social media. Our volunteers will also help prepare and serve breakfast, lunch and dinner. They have truly stepped up – seeming near infatigable and providing invaluable support. 

A journalist and camera operator from Channel 7 arrive to report a story for the evening news. Today, Phil Bunyon, a senior manager at the WestCare Centre will front the camera and explain the importance of providing 150 beds over three days to people whose health is already at risk. Tomorrow, a crew from Channel 10 will arrive to report a similar story and it will be Grant Pearson, General Manager Mission and Business Development’s turn to explain that the services Baptist Care SA is providing could save the lives.

A handful of clients want to tell their stories and be heard. A painfully thin older man explains to the journalist that sleeping on a cot is more comfortable than sleeping in the park, while a delightful character who goes by the moniker Loretta, plays up to the camera and makes the room laugh with their antics. Both express their gratitude for the kindness they receive. Tammy, a young woman who has lost her teeth due to ill health and usually sleeps rough says she values Baptist Care SA’s West Care Centre for caring about her. 

For three days, people experiencing homelessness will have what many of us take for granted— a place to sleep, with plenty of food and water and access to a bathroom and laundry. They will be with friends and share a safe space. When Code Red ends, they will return to their parks, doorways and couches where they will be walked past, even feared. 

As Christians, we will not walk past people in need. With the help of others, we will continue to provide help where we can, seeing people experiencing homelessness as equally loved children of God and an opportunity to combine prayer with action. 

When the next extreme weather event is called, Baptist Care SA’s WestCare Centre will open its doors and once again welcome those in need.  

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