It was a mere four years ago that Helena Blomeley launched the charity Donation Chain. Returning to her hometown of Frankston after working in crisis care for almost a decade and living all over Australia, she was shocked to find that nothing seemed to have improved too much during her absence. People still slept on the streets, charities had closed, and there were no suitable showers for the homeless.
A single mum to two children, Helena was on her way home from the hospital on Boxing Day in 2015 with her newborn daughter when she noticed a man barely visible in the bushes. She calls him Mr N and had crossed paths with him in her teens. Helena realised he’d been sleeping rough for almost a decade. Something needed to change.
“Who would give him a chance with the way he smelt?” she asks. “How was he supposed to get a job when most people wouldn’t even make eye contact with him? How was he supposed to find a home when he was so outcast? People get stuck in the cycle. After driving past him, I couldn’t sleep. Here I was bringing a child into the world and Mr N was still struggling to survive.”
To draw attention to the issue, Helena spent seven days with no change of clothes nor a normal hygiene regimen. “It was revolting. I still had my kids/family, my home, car and food. I did a live stream every night and you can clearly see my mental health deteriorating. I got sick, and went to my GP. When I told him what I was doing, his reply was: ‘Well, if I was homeless I’d just shower down at the beach for free.’ On the last day I showered at the beach to prove it wasn’t an option. It was freezing; it was out in the open with no privacy.
“Donation Chain was launched New Year’s Day 2016. The aim was to build a shower in Frankston. The more people I spoke to, the more people wanted to help. I may have launched an idea, but it was the community that volunteered their time to make it a reality.” With Frankston City Council and the Federal Government each contributing $15,000 for the project, the Frankston Comfort Station was opened last December to provide showers for homeless people, who are also given a towel, toiletries, socks and underwear, and fresh fruit. It’s currently open each Tuesday, Friday and Sunday from 12.30-2.30pm; Helena’s goal is to have it open every day.
“We have been working closely with Dressed For Success and Groomed To Go, which provides free clothing by appointment to people in need so after a shower they can get a change of clothes if needed. Warwick Smith, the owner of Breathe Hair in Frankston, provides haircuts to our clients after a shower.”
Visit www.donationchain.org.au to find out more; you can donate at Carrum Downs Bendigo Bank, Carrum Downs Shopping Centre, 100 Hall Rd, Carrum Downs; Frankston Bendigo Bank, at 3-5 Thompson St, Frankston; and Ebdale Community Centre, 20 Ebdale St, Frankston; the account details are Bendigo Bank BSB. 633000; account No. 170102214; customer name DONATION CHAIN INC.