Guardians of the homeless

Written by Kerrie Alexander


With tears in her eyes, Hervey Bay’s Trish Hummerston explained why she and her partner in crime, Josie Street, spend most of their days helping to restore dignity and give back basic human rights to the homeless.

The two are not part of a charity, they are not government funded, nor do they have a band of volunteers behind them.

They are simply Trish and Josie Helping the Homeless; just two ladies with a heart of gold who just can’t turn a blind eye to those who have nothing, living on the streets with not even a blanket, toothbrush, shelter, or a cold bottle of water to drink from.

Josie, who is a member of numerous charity organisations, was just walking past the community centre when a homeless man approached her for money.

Instantly she went to whip out her purse and hand over the cash but thought better of it and walked away knowing there had to be something else she could do, especially with the number of residents in crisis on the rise and now calling “tent city” their home.

With the same passion for helping those in need, Josie approached Trish with the idea of reaching out to the homeless by putting together shower packs every Monday at the Arts and Crafts Hall in Bideford St.

The two were buying the essentials to fill the bags out of their own pockets and very quickly realised that they would have to start fundraising if they were to make their vision a reality.

What they did next no one expected, and they are now hilariously known to many of their friends and family as bin chicken and ibis.

Why, you ask?

Because when these two gorgeous women first started fundraising, they would go through bins all over the region to collect bottles and cans that could then be traded at the recycle centre.

“We were head down and bum up getting those cans from bins all over Hervey Bay,” Trish said with a laugh.

“I didn’t understand the meaning of bin surfing until now because there’s some disgusting things in bins, but we are passionate about this and that’s why we do it.”

The first collection saw 400 cans and bottles loaded into the back of Josie’s Ford wagon and taken to the centre to earn them $40.

They were over the moon with their efforts until they went for the first big shop to buy the backpacks needed, and essential items to fill them like a toothbrush, toothpaste, a comb, towel, shampoo, conditioner, roll on bug spray, face washer and baseball cap.

“With the $40 worth of cans, I thought how good this is, but the bubble burst really quickly because it didn’t go too far,” Trish said.

Since then, they have enlisted the help of family, friends, and local businesses to come on board to donate the recyclables to a drop-off point at 25 Honiton St in Torquay, and thankfully they no longer need to dive in bins.

It’s now one year on and the two have extended their volunteering to also host a continental breakfast for about five-10 homeless each Tuesday and Thursday at the back of the Hervey Bay Community Centre.

The two lug trussell tables and chairs from the back of Josie’s wagon and set up a station with hand sanitizer and wet wipes for guests to have a quick wipe over, plus four types of cereal, fruit, fruit cups, toast, milk, tea, coffee, sandwiches and more.

Josie freezes water bottles, donated by the Hervey Bay RSL, before each breakfast so the guests can take away a cold drink of water for the day, and Trish boils two dozen eggs the night before ready to hand out for a protein fix.

All funded from the cans and bottle trade, and a little from their own pocket. But they don’t mind.

Trish said all the hard work is met with mountains of gratitude from the guests, especially those who have not eaten for days.

With no paperwork in sight, no referrals to aid agencies and absolutely no judgement, the ones that turn up each week have found an unmeasurable amount of trust in the wonderful women they refer to as “The Ladies”.

“We give them some to take so we know they have not only had breakfast, but they have also got lunch … some of them go days without eating,” Trish said with tears in her eyes.

“When we first started, we didn’t know how to approach them and we were a little bit scared, but now we are like a little family.

“They help us load and unload the car, the manners are amazing, and more and more people are coming because we have really connected with them all.

“If they don’t turn up, we get worries and we do go looking for them.”

They also buy tents and mats to give to those who genuinely need it. They also have a constant supply of
backpacks in the back of each of their cars to those they just find on the street needing help.

Not long ago, Trish and Josie came across a young lady sleeping in her car at a local park. She hadn’t eaten for the three days and had no fuel to move along if anyone bothered her.

Of course, they both dup deep out of their own pockets and bought the women a fuel voucher and a meal.
“We can’t provide everyone with everything because our funding is coming from the bottles and cans, but we absolutely do our best,” Josie said.

There are of course varying circumstances to why these people have found themselves on the streets, but Trish and Josie say it’s of no concern to them.

“Yes, there’s alcohol and drugs involved in some of their situations, but we don’t judge, we don’t look at that, we just see the person standing in front of us needing help.

“We get some horrible things said to us about why we help them, but I will defend the homeless to the hilt … they are human beings that just need help.”

Queensland’s growing rental crisis has led to a spike in homelessness on the Fraser Coast recently, with lower income earners and vulnerable people finding it too competitive to get a roof over their head.
Josie and Trish know it’s only going to worsen and are calling on the community to lend a hand by making a donation of cash, bottles, cans and sanitary items, or donate a recycling cage to use as a drop-off point at the Community Centre in Charles St, Pialba.

“There’s so much mental health issues out there too and these people are just being dumped with no one telling them where they can go to find help,” Trish said.

“I’ve seen some of them come straight out of hospital with nowhere to go.”

If they can raise further funds from the recycling efforts, the two would also like to install lockers for the homeless somewhere in the region so the little they do have, is kept safe.

“They basically have their life in their backpacks and if they have to leave them for some reason, like going to the doctor or something like that, it will be gone by the time they get back,” Josie said.

Josie and Trish say they are both in it for the long haul and if the homeless need their help, they will be there – “bin surfing” and all.

“Unless we win lotto,” Trish said with a laugh.

“Then we’ll just buy a big bit of land, build a big house and let them live there so they will never fear of being kicked out again.”

The absolute selflessness you see in these ladies is just so incredibly rare and the Fraser Coast community is a much better place because of them.

Anyone who would like to help can phone Trish on 0400 242 261 or Josie on 0408 827 917.