Frazzled commuters race for a train. Platform announcements blare from speakers. Queues snake from the coffee kiosks. Transport police stroll through the station.
Welcome to Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station. If you live in or have visited the city, you may have seen the homeless people who regularly gather on the station’s steps under the clocks.
Or, like so many of us, you may simply look away and hurry past…
But take a closer look and you’ll spot Anne Mitchell, Program Manager of Concern Australia’s Steps Outreach Service and Unsung Hero winner at the 2016 HESTA Community Sector Awards.
This is where every week, rain or shine, she offers comfort and hope to young people living on the streets. Her clients are usually victims of violence or abuse and are often living with mental health issues, but Anne’s calm demeanour is perfectly suited to this work.
“I’ve always tried to see the good in people,” Anne says. “For everyone that I’ve met on the street, there is no one that we couldn't find something good about.”
Anne leads a team of employees and volunteers who offer practical support to help their clients move forward to a more stable situation – something that can often take a long time.“One small change can have a massive ripple effect for people,” she notes. “We are always working on one small change at a time … we are not expecting to change a young person in a short time.”
From ripple to wave
For every young life improved, there are many more needing Steps’ long-term support. Anne plans to use her $10,000 award prize to extend the service’s Outreach program.
“Over 18 years, we’ve kept Steps going with blood, sweat and tears, working on weekends and struggling for funding as a lot of not-for profits do, so this prize money will make a big difference for us,” Anne says.
The dedicated youth worker is employed full-time but recognises the importance of maintaining boundaries. Outside of work, her life centres around her three sons and two grandchildren, her faith and a raft of hobbies, including dancing – “rock ’n’roll, jive and swing”.
With such a full schedule and having achieved so much at Steps, does she ever think about retirement?
“I don’t know if I want to retire – eventually I’ll go to part time. But I’ll never stop giving back in some way – I’ll be that little old lady in the city with my cane, saying: ‘Hello dear, are you homeless?’,” she laughs.
After a lifetime of caring for others on the streets of Melbourne, that’s easy to believe.