Winter has officially started and with temperatures getting below zero in some areas of the country, for some people a swag is a matter of life and death. It helps to create a barrier from the freezing wet conditions, to survive the night and to reduce illnesses from sleeping outdoors without adequate protection. The tears of thanks received when handing out swags is a part of the satisfaction of making sure those in need receive a them.  Something that is a small gesture to us but means so very much to someone who is sleeping rough.

Street Swags is a Charity situated in Brisbane’s Northern Suburbs that provides emergency basic waterproof bedding for those who are sleeping rough in Queensland and around Australia.  The swags are made at Woodford Correctional Centre by the inmates.  They gain work ready skills and accreditation through TAFE with a Certificate II in Textiles.  The swags are then taken to St Joseph’s Nudgee College where the students insert the foam mattresses, then roll and pack them ready for distribution.

Street Swags are asking the community to get behind them and anyone who is able to, to donate or to ‘Gift a Swag’ to someone in need.  They rely solely on donations to provide their service to those who are sleeping rough around the country.  With demand higher than ever this Winter they really need your help.

Street Swags personally look after and check on over 13 women and men in the suburbs of Ashgrove and The Gap alone, that unfortunately sleep rough on a regular basis. It might be confronting to read this, but 2 weeks ago the team at Street Swags on one of their regular nightly walks came across a one man tent setup in Woolcock Park behind the Broncos League Club. Inside was a man in his mid forties named Billy with his 8 year old son. Both Billy and his son were evicted from their West End apartment in January.  Sleeping in a tent in the park was something they had done regularly since they lost their apartment. The reason we have such little information and knowledge about rough sleepers is because with homelessness comes a lot of shame.

Rough sleepers lead a very concealed and reclusive life that renders them almost invisible. Unfortunately their ability to stay hidden and to stay separate from the wider community creates a false positive. This means that if asked a student at the local School would reply “no”  we don’t have any homeless people in our suburb. It is only frontline advocates that go out after dark or are connected to this sector that see first hand the scale of this ever growing problem.

Billy for instance would set up his tent at 8pm and he and his boy would be gone by 5.30 in the morning, never spending 2 nights in the same location. As you drive to work if you drive past a park, a golf course, a sporting field, abandoned building(like the old skating rink at Red Hill) or even a set of public toilets, then there is a very high chance that last night there was a mother, a father, or like in Billy’s case a family seeking refuge in one of those places.

Forget the stereotypes, forget the picture you have in your mind right now if I was to ask “what does a homeless person look like”.  A scruffy male in his mid fifty’s with an alcohol or drug addiction is no longer the case. Of course these profiles are common, but now we are seeing women, children and families. As public funded organisations aimed at servicing this sector close down, federal and state funding is cut, and tighter restrictions on centrelink and disability pensions, the flow on effect is that more and more people find themselves in what we call the ” Dark  Zone”. This is an area where you have no family support, no assets, no savings, and no friends that would be capable of financially assisting you if need be.

What we see is rough sleepers are commonly sent from one very heavily under resourced agency like Third space in Fortitude Valley to another government funded agency like Micah. Unfortunately the end conversation is always very similar. Sorry we have nothing available.

Street Swags is completely focused at providing warmth and safety to those that have fallen on hard times. Through articles like this we are also strong advocates to start conversations, to start discussions that lead to change. Change can be anything to a fundraising page to a couple of creative or like minded  souls starting their own front line food delivery service. If people are unaware of a problem that is growing at an expediential level then how can we judge them for not caring or not supporting those in their community that have fallen on hard times.

As a community we need to come together for those we can help.

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