When the system fails to provide basic human rights, the community can take matters into their own hands. The Sydney 24/7 Street Kitchen and Safe Space did so by providing essential services like food, bedding, shelter, books and a safe community hub - all with crowdsourced donations.
LANZ PRIESTLEY AND THE 24/7 STREET KITCHEN AND SAFE SPACE
When I started spending time with Lanz Priestley and the Street Kitchen crew in October, we had a couple tables and a handful of trusty food donations to serve hot meals on Sundays. They set up under the shelter of some scaffolding in Martin Place where suited urbanites rushed past and didn’t seem to mind. By November they stopped packing up on Sundays and started accumulating donations. The vision quickly became much more holistic than feeding the hungry – they wanted the space to be a safe haven from the dangers of ‘sleeping rough’ and a community hub to provide all basic needs at all times. As word spread on social media, the crowdsourcing campaign grew to supply mattresses, bunk beds, blankets, clothes, books, hot drinks and healthy food at all hours.
The need for something like this is too obvious to ignore. As one of the most expensive cities in the world, Sydney’s homeless population is on the rise. Temporary housing is often on the outskirts of the city, making it hard to get to appointments or food providers that usually serve for about an hour a day. Sleeping rough in the city can become the only option with a downward spiral of hurdles following suit.
These problems are not new, and Lanz has been working on them since the 90’s but his approach is quite unique. According to Lanz, government services are inadequate because they are too distant from the on-the-ground reality of homelessness. He chose to enter this reality and leave his life as a project manager for construction projects. Now that he has been living on the streets for over two decades, paternalism is not an option and empowerment is not a buzzword. He organizes decentralized, grassroots projects to meet basic needs that the system neglects.
Lanz and I got to know each other as we planned a vertical garden for another idea he has to address homelessness – building tiny houses with and for homeless people. He was often taking calls related to domestic violence interventions or organizing mini pop-up street kitchens all from his cell phone. I found it hard to believe he had time to make the 24/7 Street Kitchen a reality (I’m not sure he sleeps) but as more and more people got involved I watched it become a community space that exceeded the initial vision. When I heard that the council evicted the camp on June 24 for being a “public nuisance” I wasn’t surprised to see that they simply set up shop down the road outside the Federal Reserve. The 24/7 Street Kitchen and Safe Space has demonstrated how to take matters into your own hands, and once these hands come together they can withstand obstacles like council eviction and continue to grow.
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