We’re all doing it tough at the moment, but none more so than our homeless and marginalised communities. Since the pandemic broke out there has been a significant spike in new faces at shelters across Sydney, Rough Edges’ Jen Webster told Urban Village.

Since 1996 Rough Edges has operated as a drop-in centre and community café on Victoria Street, Darlinghurst. Roughies is run mostly by volunteers and offers counselling support, legal advice, a hot meal and community connection to those in need in the inner city.

Due to social distancing laws, the Roughies Victoria Street community hub has been forced to adapt. New restrictions mean that the centre is closed for drop-ins, and the meal service has now moved to takeaway.

Funding for Roughies services comes from Urban Exposure, a social justice education program and city walking tour for high school students, led by former Roughies clients. Now that these walks are temporarily impossible, Roughies has launched an appeal for donations to keep their vital services running.

Roughies volunteer preparing takeaway meals.

“Out of our 140 volunteers, only 39 now feel comfortable to work our takeaway service,” said Jen. “So that’s meant some reshuffling.”

As well as takeaway Roughies has launched a new phone service called ‘Let’s Connect,’ where people can register to receive a weekly phone call from a volunteer to check up on them.

“It’s not just the homeless community – we’re now seeing people who have lost their jobs and need a free meal due to their limited funds. A friend who runs a service in Martin Place said they’re seeing quite a number of international students and workers from New Zealand, as they’re not entitled to any benefits,” said Jen.

“That’s the danger we’re seeing, that this will be the next wave of homelessness.”

Another grave concern is the significant increase in domestic violence due to Covid-19. Women over the age of fifty-five are the fastest growing homelessness cohort, and recently there has been a 75% increase in Google searches for domestic violence services.

Roughies’ response has been to launch Banksia Women, a service specific to women and children experiencing family and domestic violence.

Community connection is at the heart of Roughies, and Darlinghurst locals have gotten behind this with the Darlo Pantry initiative. Started by the Darlo Darlings Facebook group, locals can drop off essential items and non-perishables to the Pantry, to aid in the foot shortage affecting the homeless community.

Operating under the mantra ‘donate what you can, take what you need,’ Darlo Pantry, as well as the continuing Rough Edges services, are timely examples of grassroots community action adapting and making a big difference to the lives of people in our community.

Darlo Pantry, image courtesy of Darlo Darlings Facebook group.

If you have the capacity to contribute to the St Johns Rough Edges appeal, you can do so here.