Hardship To Hope: Andrew’s Journey Amid Sydney’s Cost-Of-Living Crisis

Hardship To Hope: Andrew’s Journey Amid Sydney’s Cost-Of-Living Crisis
Image: Andrew Is Amongst The Many Who Have Found Solace And Help At The Wayside Chapel. Image: Supplied

This post originally appeared on CityHub.


Andrew came to Sydney looking for community. After experiencing years of homophobia, he decided to leave his hometown of Wagga Wagga to find belonging in search of belonging — a place to be loved and accepted.

But when Andrew arrived in Sydney, it was difficult to find a job. He quickly found himself living on the streets of a cold and dark city, feeling unwelcome anywhere he went.

From there, Andrew’s mental health spiralled and he found himself in the midst of a substance addiction.

Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are often over-represented amongst homeless Australians. Rising cost-of-living pressures also means that more people than ever are needing support.

Andrew had heard of Wayside Chapel before, and one day decided to head to their Kings Cross location for a meal.

“[I] saw that Coca Cola sign from the end of Williams Street all lit up and just headed straight towards it,” Andrew said.

“For the first time in a long time I actually felt not ashamed of who I was, and that this is somewhere I needed to be.”

After that day, Andrew never looked back. With Wayside’s support he was able to find subsidised housing and had access to clean clothes and fresh meals regularly. He also undertook Wayside’s public speaking and leadership toastmaster program.

Two and a half years later, Andrew is now contributing to Wayside Chapel’s education program as a presenter and shares his story with young people across Sydney.

He also supports their homelessness program, hoping that they will continue to make a difference in people’s lives.

A Safe Haven  

Since beginning its operation 60 years ago, Wayside has remained a safe haven for those in the margins. With locations in Kings Cross and Bondi, Wayside works to help those experiencing homelessness and provide special services for immigrants, women, and indigenous visitors.

This includes job seeking programs, trauma counselling, domestic and family violence specialists, and legal support. Beyond this, Wayside provides meals, places to stay, warm clothes, and showers for those living rough.

While Wayside doesn’t offer any LGBTQIA+ specific programs, it’s a place where LGBTQIA+ folks can find belonging and acceptance, and services that respect and understand their sexual and gender identities.

According to Pastor and CEO, Jon Owen, Wayside Chapel has a long history of supporting LGBTQIA+ individuals since its earliest days and plans to keep it that way.

“We say, ‘come to Wayside and see the world as it could be.’ Which is a world where you can be who you are,” said Pastor Owen.

“The more we are able to step up and have the courage to share who we are, we become more human and better humans.”

Wayside Chapel stretched thin

Along with the rest of Sydney, Wayside has felt the strain of the housing and cost of living crisis. In the last year, they have seen a 50 per cent increase in visitors at both their centres. With an average of 276 visitors a day, Pastor Owen says this is almost a 100 a day increase of visitors since last year and the numbers are expected to grow with the season.

Owen says he has seen an influx of people with similar stories to Andrew. Many visitors have come from regional and country areas due to lack of work, homes, access to welfare and other services. Additionally, there has also been an increase in LGBTQIA+ and undocumented immigrant visitors to their centres.

This influx is unsurprising. According to the National LGBTI Health Alliance, LGBTQIA+ are twice as likely to be homeless, with about half experiencing unstable or substandard living conditions. This increases to 70% for gender diverse individuals.

“We need to be there for these vulnerable people, with open arms. But it’s getting harder,” says Pastor Owen.

“We want people to know they can always come to Wayside, but once they’re here, we must be able to give them the warmth and welcome they deserve.”

Sydney’s cost of living crisis is a key factor to the increased demand for Wayside Chapel’s services. Homelessness NSW reported a shortage of 221,500 social and affordable homes across the state, and a 10% increase in demand for homelessness services in the first three months of 2023.

Subsequently, the 2024 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report noted that across the state access to specialist homelessness services increased dramatically. The Inner West experienced the highest with 1496 people accessing these services in 2022-23, compared to 1251 the year prior.

Rising interest rates, cost of living, and rental increases have also contributed to Sydney’s housing crisis.

According to Pastor Owen, these economic strains, coupled with the harsh winter weather, pushes more people to the brink of housing insecurity, rough living, and family conflict.

“When there’s an economic downturn, it is families that support one another, but it’s families that also have to hold together so much and they’re under strain,” said Pastor Owen.

“There’s often overcrowding in households, and that leads to conflict and that’s how people can, very quickly, end up being pushed out onto the streets.”

In order to cope with these added strains, services like Wayside Chapel are essential but in need of more support themselves.

“There’s a whole range of ways to get involved, from being a supporter to being a volunteer to helping out at some of our community events,” said the pastor.

Today, Andrew remains passionate about the work Wayside does in dire straits in Sydney.

“I want to make sure there is always a place that’s warm and inviting for anyone trying to survive on the Sydney streets this winter,” said Andrew.

“But, with the rapidly growing need for our services, we urgently need help to make this a reality.”

The ‘Warm A Heart’ campaign is currently underway, with tiered donations available for those who would like to give.

Wayside Chapel also accepts clothing donations at its centres and welcomes quality winter apparel during this cold season.

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