Church helps homeless people

Written By : CAROLINE DELAIVONI. A group of mentally challenged people who were turned away by their immediate families are forever grateful to be housed and cared for by the
01 Aug 2008 12:00

image Written By : CAROLINE DELAIVONI. A group of mentally challenged people who were turned away by their immediate families are forever grateful to be housed and cared for by the “Night Shelter Dwelling” at Toorak, Suva.
And they are fortunate not to be part of the growing class of street dwellers in the capital city after the St Vincent De Paul took them in as residents.
There are 16 permanent residents of the home along Browning Street and it is almost like a very comfortable boarding school.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Health donated a cheque of $2,000 to the Night Shelter Dwelling to at least help cushion the dire financial constraints currently faced by the home.
This was warmly accepted by the Society’s coordinator, Hansy Peters who in receiving the cheque said the timely assistance is one which is cherished and will in deed help those in need.
When the Fiji Sun team visited the shelter at Browning Street, we were taken aback by a lone family’s call, as we observed the household in a temporary tent-like home erected in the compound.
They had called us in to share their evening meal of rice and curry.
On first hand observance, we noticed that even though they did not have much, their actions surely spoke louder than words as they insisted we share the meal with them.
“Mai kana” called out 41-year-old Sarojni Chand in Fijian which means “come and eat”.
Even though they do not have much, they are people with big hearts.
The Chand family is one of those disadvantaged squatters who were evicted from the slumps of Narere in November last year.
And they have been refugees at the night shelter compound since then as they had no land to start a new chapter of their lives and no one else to turn to.
But according to them they have been given a piece of land by the government at Nanuku settlement in Vatuwaqa and they are looking forward to finally having a place of their own.
St Vincent De Paul, a charity organization of the Catholic Church in Fiji has been heavily involved in supporting the needy, the homeless and the hungry.
Mr Peters said since its establishment over 50 years ago, the church always relied on hand outs to cater for their day-to-day expenses and kept their work on a low profile basis because they had to protect the dignity of the poor people they serve.
But recently as times grew harder, the organization looking after the shelter had no choice but to sought for assistance publicly in order to effectively “provide food and clothing” to their residents.
“We were dependant on donors who contribute second hand clothing and off hand donations from here and there. It came to a time when this ceased and we had no where or no one to turn to. Because of our work and upon the resident’s request, it was kept in a low profile manner.”
“We don’t tell everybody that we are feeding so and so. We respect the dignity of people,” Mr Peters explained.
“But it has come to a stage where the demand is so great that we had to sought help from government and other organizations.”
The shelter established in 1989 was initially designed to cater for those women who came from villages to visit sick relatives at the Colonial War Memorial hospital and had no place to rest for the night.
“They couldn’t afford to pay for rooms in the city so we decided to accommodate them for free because we could not bear to see them sleep on the streets or at the market,” Mr Peters said.
Years later, the organization saw that most mentally ill patients from St Giles were roaming the streets after being discharged because their family disowned them.
This led to the shelter being focused more for this type of disadvantaged people.
“We accepted the mental cases and all those who need immediate or urgent assistance to stay at the shelter,” he said.
But this does not stop daily visitors of the streets who drop by the shelter to sleep in the evening, have a very good breakfast the next morning before they roam the streets the whole day.
Mr Peters added the donation from the Ministry of Health touched their lives at the shelter because it now meant they can put food on the table without a worry for the next few months – until another Good Samaritan arrives.
“Just receiving this generous gratitude from the government, we say that “we were saved by the bell”.
“This few words has touched our lives – coming from the words of the honourable minister – that it is nothing new to the society in giving out our time and anything we could do to eradicate any sufferings amongst the family,” Mr Peters said.
“Wherever they come from or whoever they are, we believe that this cheque is meaningful to our society. This will help put food on the table and also the children’s education.”
“When people come knocking at our doors saying they have no meals for the last few days – this cheque will guarantee them a decent meal.”
In making the presentation of the donation, Minister for Health, Women and Social Welfare, Dr Jiko Luveni said that during her visit to the shelter she was impressed with the facilities and services, which were hard to find. Dr Luveni said the part payment of a total financial assistance of ten thousand dollars would go on until December, after which the Society would become a recognized partner in the Ministry’s programs,
She said this initiative was part of the interim government’s involvement in helping the poor and needy in society.
“This is part of the interim government’s role of seeing an urgent problem and react straight away,” she said.

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