Carrington Cottages is a softly aged brick and stone nineteenth century building in the Adelaide City. It proudly wears its heritage listing with a recent renovation that has claimed newfound grandeur in line with many of the old buildings so prevalent in the area. Behind its doors it is a place to call home for around 60 men all over the age of 45 that are transitioning from being homeless to independent living. These men have come from all walks of life and backgrounds. From Managers and ex-military to tradespeople and new immigrants. The one thing they share in common is that at some stage in their lives they have endured homelessness and the issues that can lead to homelessness. Physically and emotionally buffeted by the loss of work, of partners, of families, of friends and of self esteem. In many ways this group of men have been left out in the cold regarding targeted support and Carrington has given them a means to get by and so start to reconnect with work, friends, their families and in many cases themselves.
It was in 1989 that the now legendary tough-minded nun Sr Betty Schonfeldt was appointed administrator of Carrington. It was her birthday the day she was handed the keys to run Carrington Cottages and immediately walked into the courtyard to break up a brawl between two large men. The sight of this petite nun walking fearlessly into the turmoil immediately set the new tone for what has become a place where hundreds of men’s lives have been turned around. Sr Betty has handed on the keys to new management but still regularly visits and keeps in close contact with a range of social activities for the tenants.
Shaunee Fox is a relatively new appointment to the position of General Manager of Carrington and her team of Alex Hark and Steve are ex-residents who show great desire and energy to keep the good will of hope within the walls, helping the residents manage and keep some order. The fact that they understand and have “been there” goes a long way in acceptance and being that important listening ear for when someone is able to talk more openly about their issues, in their own way and at their own pace.
With the renovation Carrington Cottages now starts its fourth decade of helping homeless men with the same commitment to repairing these men’s lives by organising social activities, transport to medical and welfare appointments and professional services when needed. After closing some of the rooms for the refit they are now reopen and operating to capacity.
Carrington is a not for profit association that provides boarding house accommodation for men 45+. It has 60 rooms with tenants sharing kitchens, bathrooms and backyard recreational areas. Oz Harvest supplies fresh fruit and veggies as well as some groceries so there is good food available if needed for free.
Ex-resident Steve is now one of the staff. He’s ex-military and you can see it in his manner and booming vocal cords. He openly talks of how in a relatively short period of time he lost his job, his wife and his house and found himself on the streets living rough. At one stage living in a cardboard box in Port Adelaide. Quite the showman Steve recently started playing his guitar out the back one Friday afternoon and was surprised by how many of the residents came down to sing along. This has now grown into a regular event and being a self-confessed people watcher I spent a few good hours with the audience of around 30 residents and their friends. Looking around you can see the tell tale signs of men in various states of repair. Quite a few visiting ex-residents who had reconnected with work and families, some even studying at University, had reinvigorated life in their eyes. As the evening progressed even the quiet newbies finding something that sparked a flourish of response or a vocal chorus outburst or two.
The surprising thing to me was the willingness for some of these men to talk about their issues amongst the group. The further along the journey of repair the more confidently they speak about their past to one another. Most talk of the impact that homelessness has had in tearing down what they projected as themselves to the world. When you go from that perception to a cardboard box dignity can be a fragile word.
As Steve says, “…without a place to live you can’t connect with the world. The system requires you to have a home. Carrington Cottages enabled me to reconnect with the world so I don’t feel that loss of pride anymore”.
Alex Hark a long time volunteer and ex-resident of Carrington related that it’s not just living rough these days. It has become very dangerous out there with the threat of being bashed or robbed or both. More work needs to be done to provide those people living rough a safe place to live such as Carrington Cottages.
Thanks to Shaunee, Steve and Alex
What are your Christmas Traditions?
South Australians love tradition. Whether it’s Showdown or Slowdown, the pigs in rundle mall or the Christmas Riverbank scenes every year outside that famous SA Brewery, it’s just not Christmas without the little things we do as a family. It’s not enough to have the festive decorations in the shopping malls and the high volume of Christmas specials on TV or the sentimental videos on your facebook page. It’s the Lights of Lobethal, the Christmas pageant and the familiar nuisances that trigger the memories that signal it’s truly, really Christmas.
For many years we paid far too much attention to the Northern hemisphere and locked ourselves in the kitchen with ovens blazing and pots boiling, cooking turkeys and puddings for hours on end whilst singing carols depicting snow bounds cottages and reindeer on every corner. With the oven on 180 degrees on a 43 degree day in the S.A summer, it’s a wonder we survived before air-conditioning. Even better if we get cheaper electricity.
Thankfully after putting up with dozens of truly annoying Ozzie Christmas songs over the years, our traditions have evolved to the colder cuts, BBQs and if you can afford the extra cost, a seafood spread. Australia has also seen many immigrants from equally heated countries that have turned our modern Christmas spread into the most glorious bowerbird’s feast with a myriad of flavours.
We also like to inflict our family traditions on potential family members or newcomers into our personal Christmas world. It is a rite of passage and a means to seek out, ”the keepers”. Sometimes it can be a real test of strength and endurance to gain entry onto prime seating at the dining table.
There will be tears, there may be arguments. There will be mess and spills and of course loads and loads of dishes, but we would not change it for quids. For without the whole catastrophe it would not be Christmas in South Australia.
So you might as well enjoy it all. If you’re lucky, one day your kids will be inflicting the same painful traditions on their kids.
There are no presents under the tree for him. There is no place set at the Christmas lunch or for dinner and yet he is the most generous giver of all. Even when there is an unexpected guest he somehow finds the time to sneak away and wrap a present.
He is the Secret Santa or Kris Kringle, and though he was cloned from the Original Santa or St Nicholas, he has become the the perfect reneissance Santa, even following you to your workplace as the gathering momentum of the Christmas spirit takes hold.
He has also become the means to control the spending on the ever widening circle of friends and family, as well as our social sphere and work colleagues that over the years have somehow crept into our Christmas shopping list. A way of combating the very marketing that he was created to serve. More distressing is the amount of Secret Santa or Kris Kringle poems which are at best on a par with Dad jokes that will be read out loud to all at the office party.
But there is a new kid on the block. He has been hiding in the background supressed by his excessive Christmas toil. Now emerging to challenge the rise and popularity of the Secret Santa and to provide another spending outlet for us to serve. It is the Elf on the Shelf and he comes with accessories.
This Elf has neglected his toy making duties and snuck into our homes and offices. He sees and hears more than Google or Apple and reports directly to Santa of our naughtiness or niceness and whether we are deserving or not. He even has his own rules to follow.
Changing from his traditional subserviant green to red, this Elf's rise in popularity has been greatly enhanced by the online sharing of his excapades and he has quickly become very naughty with antics well outside of his original duty statement. Some of his midnight office pranks colourfully displayed by the photocopies left on the office pin board, twitter and facebook.
Amoungst all this Christmas jockularity it is important to remember the real Christmas. If your belief is of western Religion, it is very specific but whether you're religious or not, Christmas is a time to appreciate and be appreciated. To give hope and have hope within yourself. To consider those around you and those far away or in troubled parts of the world.
We use this precious time to make the world seem that little smaller. To remind us of our faith, in ourselves or in our God.
We all need a little help sometime. Many charity groups and welfare organisations often provide what is called Emergency Relief. It is the means to provide for people in need, the assistance of most benefit to them. This could be food, food vouchers, blankets, clothes, assistance with bills and furniture as well as other vouchers to stores such as K-Mart to purchase much needed goods.
Help may also include medications, access to free glasses, and referrals to free dental care. Many centres provide budget counselling, financial counselling, personal counselling and links to other community programs located across the state.
These welfare agencies are recognised to provide a state wide standard and most supermarkets, stores and businesses give generously each year to these welfare agencies so they can identify and issue vouchers and goods to those in need.
See the Affordable App, website or ring the Helpline1800 025 539 for more details.