Mel Winnell: Community Worker Streetlevel

Surry Hills is home. It’s a place where I spend most of my time. It’s where I work, live, socialise all on the one street even. I wasn’t sure if I’d love the move here from the south coast but I’ve found it very vibrant and diverse. I like the busyness more than I thought I would. I enjoy observing people.

I love that Surry Hills is close to the city but has also a village feel. You see people you don’t know, but you see them so regularly and it feels like you know them.

I hang out at the gym, the pub, cafes and church. That’s where I find community. Some people say that development is stripping Surry Hills of its culture and others find that the development is good. So I hear both sides.

Working here at the centre, the gap between the people we see at work and some of the professional more affluent people becomes visible and that’s a challenge. I feel part of both those communities but I feel sad about the gap and frustrated. It would be nice if there was simple solution but there is not.

We try not to work out of a welfare mentality here. As a team we realise the importance of community in healing, growth and transformation. This is a place where people are safe and they can be who they are and they are accepted. People can grow and we ourselves grow as well. So this is my community, it’s not just my job. We try to empower people rather than just give handouts.

I love seeing people come out of themselves. They come in apprehensive and not sure about being involved. Then I see them move to coming in regularly and also this becomes a place they can participate in. I love seeing what people are capable of with some encouragement and feeling valued. I also see wider systemic things we face with our community that we can’t change as easily. So we like to celebrate the small wins. We know it’s not always the fact that people move forward because people go forwards and backwards. You’d like to be able to fix things but it’s not always so easy. So as a team we are supportive of each other and we encourage each other. Self-care for us is huge.

I have a medical condition that is a life-long thing. It changed where I was heading in work and it was a wake up call. Having a condition like this can give you a reason to just give up or you can take it as a wake up call and do what you need to do. My condition has made me realise what is important in life and think about what doesn’t matter. It has been hard but I can also see that it has shaped me. I now realise that life isn’t all about me. I have a desire to see others grow and I feel more compassionate about people. I am grateful.

What we do isn’t who we are. I have realised how important family is and community. Whether you are living on the street or in a high paying corporate job, life is more about sharing with others and putting others first.

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