An enduring Christmas gift
Toys, food hampers and other gifts will brighten the lives of thousands of people who will be embraced by the caring ministries of Wesley Mission this Christmas.
A swag of volunteers will be serving Christmas lunch to the lonely and disadvantaged. Older Australians will get a much-welcomed visit, and the homeless will gather to give thanks to God for the gift of Jesus Christ. Worship and service sit comfortably together in Wesley Mission’s Word and deed ministry.
As homeless families open presents on Christmas Day at the Wesley Noreen Towers Community, Wesley Mission’s Lifeline Sydney and Sutherland volunteer phone counsellors will be answering calls from the lonely for whom Christmas provides little joy or peace.
During the past year this part of the Lifeline movement, which began under the leadership of the Rev. Dr Sir Alan Walker 50 years ago, answered more than 24,600 crisis calls.
It is a gracious ministry of Word and deed; a gift that is given all year.
A brighter future
When 17 year-old Haydn stood before a packed hall at his school eisteddfod earlier this year, he was brimming with self-assurance as he sang his heart out.
He had recently gained his first part-time job and was doing much better at school. Life had changed.
However, it could have all been very different. Haydn was abandoned by his father and then his stepfather by the time he was 15.
Struggling to deal with the anger and pain he felt, his school grades began to drop. His fists did the talking and playground fights afforded him several school suspensions.
However, Wesley Brighter Futures was there to support him. Haydn was introduced to a young male counsellor, who believed in him and his prospects for a healthier future: a rapport developed.
Haydn was finally receiving the help he always needed. After years of feeling abandoned and unsettled by adult men, Haydn refocused and gained new confidence.
1,135 reasons to celebrate
During the past year, Wesley Brighter Futures has been assisting 578 families in households that are at risk. They are just some of the 1,135 families assisted by Wesley Family Centres during the past year.
The program works hard to create a safe environment for children, offering parenting education and development as well as one-to-one mentoring and case management, leading families to resolve the issues affecting their children’s health, safety and well-being.
The result is that Wesley Brighter Futures is able to help many families break cycles of abuse, neglect and general despair that may have been going on for a considerable time. At the same time it provides them with the tools and education they need to build a stronger family.
Almost 90 per cent of the families said the program had resulted in improved relationships between parents and children and 92 per cent said they had improved child health, safety and well-being.
The value of research
Underlining the significance of Wesley Brighter Futures is recent Wesley Mission research on family homelessness.
The Wesley Report, Homelessness and the next generation, found that many homeless people do not believe their homes are safe and that the experience of homelessness can leave an enduring negative impact on their lives. Yet, intervening today can prevent a lifetime of trauma.
Each night, Wesley Mission is providing accommodation and support to 600 people who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Domestic violence and family breakdown too often sets families adrift in a strange and unfamiliar world of emergency shelters or life on the streets.
One in every five (21.62 per cent) people who seek homelessness support from Wesley Mission identifies domestic violence as the main cause of their homelessness. A further 8.1 per cent claim relationship and family breakdown as the prime cause.
More than 17 per cent of Australia’s homeless are now under the age of 12, 27 per cent are under the age of 18, and another 15 per cent are aged 19 to 24 years. Families are the most likely group to be turned away from homeless services while two out of every three children who accompany a sole parent are turned away each day.
Almost all of the 22 participants in the Wesley Mission study felt that experiencing homelessness at a young age had a considerable impact on their life as an adult and any subsequent episodes of homelessness.
Many participants in the study felt that exposure to the stress of homelessness as a child had resulted in difficulty forming meaningful relationships as an adult. Many spoke about a sense of deep distrust of others and their inability to interact socially. Several participants spoke of losing their innocence as a result of experiencing homelessness as children. Many had witnessed violence, illegal drug taking and crime – things they should never have seen as children.
“What is disturbing, but not surprising, is that home is often considered less safe than the alternatives – even sleeping rough,” the Superintendent of Wesley Mission, the Rev. Dr Keith Garner said.
“While the causes of homelessness are often related to domestic and family violence, eviction, financial stress and loss of employment, it is other factors including crime, substance abuse, domestic violence and mental illness that play their part.
“It is a sad fact that nationally, almost one third of homeless people who receive support are homeless families – and that number is expected to grow in the coming years.”
The Wesley Report also established that it is vitally important that homeless families get quick and easy access to stable, social housing. This also acts as a circuit breaker giving a family time to think clearly about their future rather than live in the shadow of fear and insecurity.
At the same time families need tailored support to not only help them through the crisis but provide a firm foundation to meet future challenges. Appropriate support can also build resilience in children who can all too easily withdraw from relationships, disengage from learning and employment, lose trust, and learn behaviours which can cause them to relapse into homelessness later in life.
The study also found the issues, which were being addressed by homeless services went beyond the obvious food, shelter and safety – to deeper issues associated with social and emotional wellbeing. In almost all cases, those surveyed named security, safety and stability of circumstance as core benefits.
Homeless families defined security as a sense of physical safety associated with locks on doors and private rooms in accommodation centres. Safety itself was more closely related to the removal of external risks such as exposure to domestic violence because of relationship breakdown, or access to drugs or alcohol.
In many cases, children and parents had left extremely disruptive environments, often surrounded by violence, aggression, extreme poverty or drugs and alcohol-related concerns. While counselling and case worker support, housing and meals were highly valued, services which ensured safety, security and the ability to ‘stop and pause’ laid the platform for more vital benefits to be realised.
‘Without meeting these needs, it was very difficult for a service to address any of the deeper, long-term social and emotional wellbeing issues,’ Rev. Garner said.
While Haydn’s Christmas will be a different experience to previous years thanks to Wesley Brighter Futures, many people will be struggling in other ways this Christmas.
“There will be those who are struggling to find the meaning of life and there are those who are finding it difficult to cope with the pressures of life.
“For both, the gift of God at Christmas is one of hope. It is a hope that takes us much further than mere optimism. All around us people are trying to make ends meet by juggling their weekly shopping budget, choosing which bill to pay, or foregoing the special treat for the children. These are tough decisions that face a growing number of Australians.
“Every day at Wesley Mission, we help struggling families and individuals who are overwhelmed by circumstances, which limit their choices and bring increased pain. It can be so tough that people wonder where things went wrong; but this is not a new experience.
“At varying times in the history of our world, it would have been easy to give in to the darkness of human suffering, often inflicted by the selfishness of others. However, before we are drawn into despair, let us capture the glorious message of Christmas.
“This message comes to us in the vulnerability of a Child. Jesus Christ breathes hope into our apparent despair. Yet the way this hope takes shape is unique. The majesty of God comes in the midst of the mundane.”
Give the gift of hope
If not treated, childhood trauma will affect an individual’s ability to live a stable life in adulthood. This Christmas you can give the gift of a happy Christmas, and a life without suffering.