Among the many community and social awareness themed floats that will file up Oxford St in this year’s Mardi Gras Parade will be a humble box trailer bearing six people and brandishing the banner “Please don’t forget our homeless. LGBTQI homeless are our most vulnerable.”
The float has been organised by Cat Delaney and is part of a much bigger project – the Rainbow Homeless Refuge.
Delaney spent time on the streets many years ago when a horrendous set of circumstances rendered her homeless and destitute. She had grown up in a stable home with a Catholic education, an interest in sports that almost went to representative level, no health issues, and a rewarding job in nursing.
It all ended suddenly one night after a vicious assault.
It’s a story that indicates how easy it is to become homeless and that there is no typical personality or scenario that defines a homeless person.
“I couldn’t tell you how many gay guys that I talk to, they’ll tell you that they’ve been homeless. It’s enormous,” says Delaney.
“Because their family has either kicked them out at some stage; they’ve couch surfed somewhere; their relationship has broken down; they’ve lost their job…a whole pile of things.”
Homelessness among the LGBTIQ community is much higher than people think, according to Delaney. Not only that, but queer homeless people are then further marginalised by an already marginalised group.
“The gay people on the street, whether they be lesbians, whether they be trans or whether they be gays, they’re just vulnerable, and they absolutely get picked on by the other homeless: ‘Fucking poofters!’ ‘Bloody filth!’ And they’ll just belt them up just for the sake of it,” says Delaney.
To make matters worse, if the Religious Discrimination Bill comes into effect it may hinder access to facilities and resources for the homeless and disadvantaged.
“All the churches who own and operate nursing homes or own and operate homeless refuges…they can just simply say no to anybody who they even perceive to be gay,” says Delaney.
“They won’t get entitlement to welfare because the Australian Government keeps distributing welfare through our religious institutions.”
“And to think that a prime minister who purports himself to be a devout Christian wants to introduce such a deplorable Religious Freedom Bill…”
The Rainbow Homeless Refuge will be accepting of everyone, regardless of gender, identity, belief.
“This will be one of the first refuges in Sydney that’s not owned or operated by a church and that’s what I think is huge and unique about it,” says Delaney.
As part of the project, Delaney wants to create a not-for-profit charity. She has a group of people who are interested in being part of it (a minimum of five people is required for a charity to be registered.)
“I’ve put it out there, got a wonderful response – people wanting to donate money left, right and centre, it’s unbelievable!”
Until the charity is registered she can’t actually accept money, but she says she’s keeping track of all the pledges.
The planned refuge will provide temporary shelter and overnight stay but not long term accommodation. One very important aspect of it – and something that is missing with many other shelters – is that it will accept pet dogs.
For many homeless people, their pets are their one true companion and they refuse to abandon them. Delaney has had a number of friends on the street who have died because they refused shelter or medical care if it meant they’d have to leave their pets behind.
The “Please Don’t Forget Our Homeless” float will be the fifth off the rank. It consists of a car containing five people and the six people on the box trailer – all of whom have been homeless at some stage in their lives.
“I’ve got an 87 year old lady who is a lesbian woman who’s gonna be on our float. And she’s going to be representing that no elderly should be living in their car…gay or straight.”
To find out more or be part of the project, join the Facebook Rainbow Homelessness Refuge Group.