For the homeless of Victoria, winter without a coat is often sadly a reality. Two years ago, the Order of Malta, which is celebrating its 900th anniversary this year, began the Coats for the Homeless program.
- Edwina Hall, Kairos
From April to September each year, members of the Order of Malta, together with volunteers, travel alongside the St Vincent de Paul and Salvation Army soup vans each week, distributing coats to very grateful recipients in Melbourne’s city streets, and the Dandenong and Springvale area.
The coats are specially designed for sleeping rough. They cost about $30 each and are waterproof both inside and out; new, warm and light so the homeless people can carry them easily to wherever they may be sleeping at the time.
In Victoria last year, 350 coats were handed out by the Order of Malta. This year, 2500 coats will be distributed by the Order Australia-wide. The Vice-President of the Order of Malta in Victoria, Sir James Gobbo AC CVO KStl QC, said the Victorian arm of this program took a very hands-on approach.
‘On a typical night we go out with a mix of full members and volunteers and we generally carry about 10 coats with us,’ Sir James said. ‘We engage in ordinary conversation while the homeless people are having a bite to eat and we soon ascertain which ones are actually sleeping rough.
‘The important thing for our volunteers is the personal engagement. We prefer to be in a program that is hands on because that experience is really living out Gospel values and it is strongly commended to us by the head of the Order of Malta Grand Prince Master Fra’ Matthew Festing.
‘It’s very important to understand that some of the coats that are given to these people for winter wear are wool or a mixture of something that is of a character that gets wet, damp and musty very quickly; so, if you sleep on wet grass with a coat like that, it’s really no good in a few days.’
FULL STORY Coats for the homeless