Using food and music to build bridges with the homeless

There may be a slight chill in the air, but it barely registers with the men and women who have assembled at the end of a side street off Observatory’s Station Road.

Bob Marley’s Jamming reverberates off a nearby wall, prompting another elderly man to leap up and join the fray. His movements are fluid and belie his age – a fact that is not lost on his peers who whoop and cheer every time he shakes a hip this way or that.

The band providing the soundtrack are called Well Done Sun, and to their audience they are the icing on the cake. Hot soup, snacks and even marshmallows have been gratefully devoured, and now it is time to dance. Dance away the cold. Dance away the troubles of the streets.

For the past three months, this scene has played out every Friday evening thanks to the efforts of two southern suburbs-based organisations, Soup Kitchen Observatory and Breaking Bread, which have found a unique way to feed the homeless while simultaneously building relationships between the destitute and the local community. As so often happens, music is being used to break through barriers, and it’s working.

“The tension is slowly starting to fade,” said volunteer, Tania Sincic.

“We have been averaging about 50 people a night. There are usually more people from the community, but I think the cold has played a role in keeping some people away tonight (during the Tatler’s visit),” she said.

“Everyone likes the idea. There have been one or two residents who have complained about the music, but we have now made sure that the band doesn’t play too loudly.”

Another volunteer, Sophie Chaney, said the intention was to keep the event as intimate as possible.

“We want to keep it small, so we don’t become bogged down with paperwork. It’s really been great that the homeless and community have got to know one another. A few weeks back, we had some comedians stop by to perform stand-up. Some of the homeless also perform, singing or giving poetry readings.”

As the evening progresses, a few latecomers arrive to gratefully accept bowls from a fresh batch of soup. Well Done Sun are taking a well-deserved break, and the microphone has been presented to Nicole Adams, a homeless transgender activist who has brought along some of her poetry.

As desperate as the latecomers are for some nourishment, they hang onto her every word – a haunting tribute to her life’s journey.

“I work a lot with SWEAT (Sex Workers Education and Advocacy Task force) as well as the Jubilee Community Church, which have given me back my dignity and my focus,” she said.

“I have worked as a sex worker and have three children, and life has been difficult. But now that I have my focus back I am able to write my poetry again, and this event gives me a platform to share my words with people.”

A heavily pregnant woman, who identified herself as “Amiena”, said she had been attending the Friday evening gatherings since their inception.

“Last year I was in prison for shoplifting. I have four children, and this baby will be my fifth, so I started shoplifting to feed my kids,” she said.

“But I think God wanted to teach me a lesson, and that’s why I was arrested. It was painful, but eventually I accepted my punishment. I had also started doing drugs like tik, and I was going downhill. But since I have been out, I’ve met these wonderful people, who say that they love me. These events boost the atmosphere for everyone. The other day, I was feeling down, but then I came here and I was happy again.”

As the band resumes with another Marley classic, Ms Chaney links arms with the elderly man who has hardly stopped for breath.

William Shakespeare wrote something about music being the food of love, and in this moment it’s not hard to see what he meant.