Left for Dead: The Makeshift Family Helping a Homeless Perth Man Heal
Below is an article about Collective Hope, an IPHC ministry, located in Australia. This ministry seeks to ensure that godly justice prevails among those with disabilities in their community. This content was provided by WAtoday.
Stuart Riddell is one of many who live on the streets of Perth’s eastern foothills.
He has a long and complicated history with drugs, homelessness, rehab and personal relationships, and his intellectual disability makes an already difficult situation much harder.
But when Stuart was hit by a car early last month, it seemed his long struggle was only about to worsen.
He was driven over, with his head and bones in his neck, spine, scapula, ribs, pelvis and leg all left broken.
Stuart was rushed to Fiona Stanley Hospital for emergency treatment but the outlook was bleak; it was likely he would never walk again.
He was left in the sterile hospital room with not even a spare change of clothes when he reached out to the people who considered him family.
Finding God in Kings Cross
Collective Hope is a not-for-profit organisation for people with disabilities set up in Perth’s east, and was the first port of call for Stuart when he was given the news about his new reality.
Collective Hope provides a roof, security and comfort from a group of dedicated volunteers who work around the clock to support its group of residents, and Stuart has been in and out of its doors more than Dale Ross can count.
Dale is one of the stalwart presences in Collective Hope’s hallways. He’s kind-looking, and the residents stop to hug him as they come through the front doors – which are always locked.
He has been involved with people with disabilities for most of his life, he says. Both of his parents were carers and they often took in children who were struggling into their South Australian home.
Dale said initially he had no desire to follow in their footsteps.
“I was a film producer – I made training videos and what have you,” he said. “I thought I would never go that way again.”
But things changed for Dale about four years ago, when he said he “met God in Kings Cross”.
“It’s one of those things you could write off as a coincidence I guess, but it was deep for me. I was alone in a hotel room, and I was thinking there was no hope for my life, there was no purpose for me to go on living and I was contemplating life in a very negative way with all the knowledge I thought I had. It didn’t really make much sense. It felt like it was going down the gurgler.
“Then early in the morning, I met a guy in Pyrmont who came up to me in the dark and he gave me a cup of coffee.
“At the time I wasn’t very nice to him. He spoke to me and said ‘is your name Dale?’ and I said yes.
“He said ‘God spoke to me last night about you.’ I said ‘well that’s nice that God speaks to you. He doesn’t speak to me.’
“And he said ‘he told me to come and tell you that you do have hope and because you’re alive, there’s a purpose for your life.’
“That just flipped everything. I’d said that out loud privately in my hotel room, it wasn’t something anybody knew. He knew my name. He knew my situation and I hadn’t met him before.”
Dale eventually began working in Perth’s eastern suburbs and has lived and worked in the area since.
During his time as a carer, he has worked with men and women who have escaped domestic violence, abuse, drug addiction and those who have recently left prison.
Stuart in particular left quite an impression on him when they first met a few years ago.
After discovering the man in a dangerous situation where substance abuse was apparently rife, Dale worked hard to set Stuart up in one of Collective Hope’s first residential spaces.
He ensured Stuart had 'round-the-clock volunteer carers, and was free to come and go. He had lived on and off with Collective Hope for just over three years when they got a phone call about his whereabouts in early May.
Stuart's Road to Recovery
Dale was by Stuart’s bedside shortly after the accident and was already arranging care and donations that were coming through to the hospital room days after his accident.
But it was visitors Stuart wanted. With every vertebrae broken in his back, Dale said the only thing he really wanted was for friends to come and visit.
“Here’s the thing ... I think the general public, as well as churches, do not get the value of people with disability,” Dale said.
“If they understood the disability, they would all want people with disability in their church, in their homes, in their workplaces.
“Because of disablement that people with disability experience, they have a capacity to love and accept other people more than anybody else.”
Dale said while Stuart was coming along in leaps and bounds considering the originally serious diagnosis, it was knowledge that he had a safe space to return to after his ordeal that gave his makeshift family the most comfort.
“[Rehab services] have not helped him, because the issue is that even the best rehabs ... they’re aimed at people who don’t have intellectual disability,” Dale said. “So that’s where we come in. We’re good at that.
“[Stuart] is actually standing and taking a few steps. I’m not sure he should. He’s so determined if anyone’s going to do it, it’s going to be Stuart.”
Pastor Chris Friend – the leader of the church that helps support Collective Hope – said after Stuart's hospitalisation, the role the service played in one of Perth's more challenging areas was obvious.
“The need is more apparent and I think social media will show that, we’re more aware of things than we ever were before,” he said.
“Simultaneously there’s a whole bunch of people doing great things, [rehab centre] Shalom [House] being one example, it’s not just us, who are really stepping into that space and doing all that they can to help.
“I think there’s more and more a collaboration across Christian and secular services which I really do think do good work.”
But for all of the work Collective Hope do, they are reliant on church funding and donations from the community.
Its management currently has a grant request sitting with a government authority, but Pastor Chris said it is more important than ever for state services to get behind local community groups trying their best to plug the hole that is affordable housing.
“We’re fairly plugged into the Midland scene, and I think the charity sector in Midland is really working hard and punching above its weight ... to fix some things,” he said.
“There’s some net gains there to be acknowledged, but the need is apparent. The need is great.”
And as the story of Stuart’s slow road to recovery becomes apparent, it’s clear these spaces are some of the only friendly, supportive and secure places for Perth’s disabled displaced population to go.
An Abandoned Maternity Hospital
The community Dale speaks about has developed over time.
Collective Hope saw first-hand the impact Perth’s housing crisis had on affordable housing, and the squeeze that saw people left behind by the mining boom shunted out onto the streets.
They had a stroke of luck when they were able to take up the lease at an old maternity hospital in Gosnells in July last year, and now the property has a distinct feeling of home as the volunteers walk their residents through it.
Nearly everything used at the facility was donated or bought by the church, and the residents often get together to cook food for the homeless around the Gosnells and Midland area.
Residents have their own rooms, which they are allowed to lock from both the inside and the outside, and decorate how they please.
The centre of the hospital is a makeshift chapel.
Dale is contemplative when he's asked about people who might be cynical about religion's role in the recovery and support of Perth’s disabled homeless population.
But he said when he was approached with a cup of coffee in Pyrmont, the reason his world had been rocked was because someone had been gentle with him. He hadn’t preached, he had just given him a brief word of hope.
It's a lesson Dale uses every day as he works with the other volunteers in creating a safe space.
He said it’s important to let residents know someone is there for them. Being on the streets often means self-worth is not intrinsic, and the self-preservation mentality many develop while homeless can be hard to break.
But if residents feel like they have someone to turn to – if it’s through God or if it’s through the volunteers who give up their time to spend time with, talk and offer a helping hand – it’s enough for Dale and his team.
Sometimes it’s as simple as telling someone they’re awesome, allowing them to lock their things away during the day, cook for themselves and go for walks by themselves.
And while solidarity and independence is important, Collective Hope still try to maintain that feeling of community and support.
For example, Pastor Chris said it was often cramped when all the residents insisted on eating together in their dining room.
The room caters for about 10 people comfortably, and while two separate dining times would make more sense, the residents hate to be separated.
They prefer to eat as a family, because that’s what they are.