Back in 1999, the YSAS offices in Frankston closed around 5pm, but young people still came knocking on the doors as workers were finishing up for the day. Youth worker Vanessa Collins remembers the usual situation: “You’d be locking up on time and you’d see them come running across the street. Help! Help! I’ve got nowhere to stay tonight!”
One cold, rainy winter’s evening at about 6pm, Rod Donald was preparing to head home when he heard a knock on the door. He opened it to see a young guy, Chris, standing outside with his girlfriend. Chris was thin and spotty, a heroin user with the dishevelled clothes of someone who sleeps rough. His girlfriend was younger, maybe 17, with long dark hair and noticeable acne. You can imagine what Rod thought they’d ask.
Instead, Chris told Rod there was an old homeless man slumped in the public toilets near the train station. “It’s not right,” said Chris. “Can we come in and ring around and see if we can find him accommodation?”
And so Rod spent about an hour helping Chris and his girlfriend to find this stranger temporary lodging. After working the phones, they went to the toilets, found the grey-haired man sprawled under the fluorescent lights, helped him into the car and accompanied him to a hostel. “They took responsibility for the whole process,” says Rod. “It was a lovely thing to see and be part of. That was a great example of showing a really caring and ethical side to their personality. They clearly had a sense of what was right and what was wrong, and from their perspective an old man sleeping in a toilet wasn’t right.”
“And at that stage they were homeless themselves,” he adds.