Reach Homeless Services run a BBQ on Beaumont Street in Hamilton to help Newcastle's homeless

GATHERING: The Reach Homeless Services BBQ at Hamilton on Friday,. Picture: Simon McCarthy
GATHERING: The Reach Homeless Services BBQ at Hamilton on Friday,. Picture: Simon McCarthy

Friday night on Beaumont Street in Hamilton 

It is early evening and quiet, but midway along the street people are gathering. A van is backed up, a trailer is being unloaded and the smell of a BBQ will soon waft in the cool winter air. 

But this is no food festival.

Volunteers from Reach Homeless Services are setting up to help some of the region’s most-in-need. They are here every week and have been for the past four years. 

Friday’s BBQ is held during Homelessness Week, which aims to raise awareness of people experiencing homelessness, the issues they face and the action needed to achieve lasting solutions. 

STORAGE: The service stores everything it uses in its trailer and van. Picture: Simon McCarthy

STORAGE: The service stores everything it uses in its trailer and van. Picture: Simon McCarthy

One man who has come for a feed is Graham Doolan.

He is homeless and has been for the past seven months.

Attending the BBQ, for Doolan, is a necessary part of life.

“I have to,” he said. “I’m bumming it on the street.

“My money lasts a couple of days. 

“I’m eating takeaways [because I can’t keep food] and I’m buying for two.” 

GRATEFUL: Graham Doolan is a homeless man living in Newcastle. Picture: Simon McCarthy

GRATEFUL: Graham Doolan is a homeless man living in Newcastle. Picture: Simon McCarthy

Doolan is here with his partner, Deanne. 

The pair spend nights at the beach and carry mats to sleep on made of interwoven plastic bags. 

Doolan, 47, seems upbeat despite his situation. 

“No one can put me down, I’m already down,” he said.

“I’ve got nothing, so everything’s up. When I gain things, it’s a bonus.” 

What he gains from Reach is a hot meal – sausage sandwiches, a coffee and multiple relief packs.

The service hands out food packs with canned goods and snacks to get people through the weekend, and men’s and women’s hygiene packs. 

Doolan, who has spent half his life in jail, says it takes courage to visit services like Reach for those who are doing it tough.

But he is grateful the services are there.  

“Newcastle is the best charitable area and caring loving people in this country,” he said. 

“There’s not many places you can pretty much get a meal in your tummy every day.”

RELIEF: Immediate relief food and hygiene packs are provided to those in need.

RELIEF: Immediate relief food and hygiene packs are provided to those in need.

Offering that meal, even just once a week, is expensive for Reach – who rely on volunteers to operate and financial sponsors to exist. 

“There’s lot of people who need support,” Reach’s executive director Gary Parsisson said. “They’ve all got their own situations going on.

“It’s no different to any other city in Australia.

“We try and be as much we can to as many as we can, but we want to do more.” 

In the Hunter, 1747 were homeless at the time of the 2016 census – a 12 per cent increase since 2011. Of those, 1208 were from Newcastle and Lake Macquarie, up from 1068 in 2011.

TOUGH TIMES: Two men at the BBQ. One was given a pair of socks, as he had none.

TOUGH TIMES: Two men at the BBQ. One was given a pair of socks, as he had none.

In July, nearly 1000 people went to Hunter Homeless Connect Day, which Mr Parsisson says links people to regular services like Reach.

On the two Fridays after, the BBQ had its biggest attendances of the year. 

Nationally, more than 116,000 are homeless. On any given night, 1 in 200 people are sleeping rough. 

There are calls for a national housing plan to end homelessness, but until then services like Reach are “crucial”, Mr Parsisson believes.

But they need help to operate.  

Everything Reach provides is stored in its van and trailer, which is kept out in the weather. The service is limited on what it can take in as it has no fixed storage space. 

While they would love to put the call out for more well needed donations of blankets, clothes and food items, it is not possible without more space. 

“If someone out there, maybe a real estate or a developer, if someone’s got a little warehouse in Newcastle … maybe they’d like to donate it and [let us] use it for a while,” Mr Parsisson said. 

“That’s one of our needs that will enable us to plan better and grow.”

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