Peter Di Girolamo, Our Backyard manager
He’s a man with a big heart, especially when it comes to helping the homeless. But it hasn’t always been that way.
Many years ago, he was one to walk past someone on the street and not think twice about how they got there.
But then something changed, around seven years ago a friend’s plight became Peter Di Girolamo’s inspiration to do something more.
"I had a work collegue who slept her in car because she was homeless after falling out finacially," he said.
"And on the very first night of sleeping out in her car, she was assaulted.”
Read more: When your home is your car
From then on, he began investigating ways to help out the homeless.
Initially, he was involved in a community cafe and kitchen in Hamilton, and was later on the board of Hunter Homeless Connect.
Now, as community program manager of Macquarie Care’s ‘Our Backyard’ program, he’s exposed to the realities of homelessness that he believes “anyone can fall into” on a daily basis.
“Everybody homeless wasn't just some drug-addict who found themselves on hard times, it can be people who are actually working and a whole raft of people,” he said. “You can be only three or four paychecks away from being homeless.”
The “crisis service” is open to all and allows people with cars to stay on a secure property with proper kitchen and hygiene facilities. Hot showers, toilets, power-points, food and drinks are provided in temporary buildings, similar to mining dongas.
The organisation helped 120 people in 2017 and aims to provide a crisis-to-assistance system that helps people return to residential accommodation.
“A lot of people before this program started were sleeping wherever; by the beach, truck stops, on the side of the road, in bushland, by the lake,” he explains.
“They need their car to get around and then the car becomes a place they can sleep at night. If the program didn’t exist, these people would be down the park or on the street, and like my friend, would be more susceptible to being assaulted."
Mr Di Girolamo’s personal community involvement extends to working as a church pastor, as “BBQ manager” of his beloved cricket side NTO Googlies, and running the Blue Gum Hills’ Neighbourhood Watch program.
But the 52-year-old says he wouldn’t be recognised for any of his Our Backyard work if it wasn’t for the volunteers.
"I've got 21 volunteers and without those volunteers, I'd be burning out,” he said. "You've got to have them.”
“If we can highlight that [becoming homeless] can happen to anyone, than I’ve done my part speaking today.”