International chef visiting Wagga said the secret ingredient to stop the flow of homelessness lies in local businesses reaching out, however not all were convinced.
Once homeless, the Canadian chef-entrepreneur Mark Brand created a business that was built around those who struggled.
In partnership with CSU and City of Sydney, Mr Brand visited Wagga on October 30 to show how local businesses can be outward facing towards the community.
Mr Brand argued that giving people with “traditional barriers” proper employment opportunities not only helps the community, but also the business.
“We always complain about industry; restaurants and beverage places never have enough staff and everybody is transient, but when you start to hire people who have got barriers like have come out of jail, or have a disability,” Mr Brand said.
“You find that these people stick around, they come to work loving their job and are happy to be there and they are good at what they do, and you’ve got a solid base.
“When they stick around, they feel loved and looked after and you have less issues with people stemming into poverty and homelessness, because the biggest drive of isolation is gone.”
Mr Brand said poverty cannot be fixed from one person but rather a community of efforts.
“Having experienced it and working with many people who have experienced in much worse, we just have to be looking out for each other,” he said.
“If I give an opportunity to one person and another business gives opportunities to two, it continues and the problem is over.
“It really is about all of us just doing a small part, rather than pointing fingers at the council or millionaires and going ‘why can’t you fix it’, because it’s a human problem and not a resource problem as we have enough money to fix it.”
Mr Brand said the agricultural sector, which is one of Wagga’s main industries, is also a transient population and it would be more economical to hire people with a range of abilities.
It’s hard to give people a hand when they don’t want to let you into their souls.St Vincent de Paul's Wagga president, Joanne Crowley
“One thing we talk about is turnover per annum at any service or business, but in agriculture it’s about 80 per cent and costs about $2000 to train one person,” he said.
“Instead of experiencing any of that you can just hire people and do good by the community and I’ve seen communities where it becomes common business and the problem goes away.
“When you’re looking at homelessness people immediately go, we have to feed and house them, of course you don’t that’s a base.
“We need to provide opportunities, it’s the same youth with drug issues, youths generally gravitate towards drugs when they’re very bored, if you can’t give them something they care about then that’s when you carry guilt around as a society, society gets sick.
“We need to look at a way that’s really meaningful and embrace the youth and females because we need as much empathy as we can muster because guys running the world haven’t worked that out yet,” Mr Brand said.
While president of the Wagga region’s St Vincent de Paul Joanne Crowley is dedicated to lending a hand to those in need, she said there are many challenges.
“On our books, we probably have got 16 people in the community who are homeless, either living under a bridge, couch surfing or in a swag,” she said.
“Some have chosen to be homeless and are happy, while others might have been in situations where they have been kicked out of their home or just got out of jail and no one wants them.
“It would be wonderful for businesses to take in and employ those who are homeless, but it’s just not realistic and only probably one in 50 businesses would open their arms, the trust isn’t there.”
Ms Crowley said when Vinnies talks to people during home visits or through town support it is often just about where they can find food and clothes.
“We find out what they want, but they usually don’t want to open up to us,” she said.
“It’s hard to give people a hand when they don’t want to let you into their souls.”