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Changemaker  |  Social Affairs

Walking the Walk

28 August 2017 at 8:49 am
Wendy Williams
The Salvation Army's Major Brendan Nottle has worked with society's most vulnerable people for more than a decade. He is this week’s Changemaker.

Wendy Williams | 28 August 2017 at 8:49 am


Walking the Walk
28 August 2017 at 8:49 am

The Salvation Army’s Major Brendan Nottle has worked with society’s most vulnerable people for more than a decade. He is this week’s Changemaker.

Nottle, who leads The Salvation Army Melbourne Project 614 said helping others is in his DNA.

Every week, he and his team can be found on the streets of Melbourne providing support to those in need.

They work with people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, those suffering from serious mental health issues, people affected by a range of addiction issues and people who are suffering from social poverty, offering support by supplying meals, clothing and counseling as well as working with clients to create pathways out of their current state of marginalisation.

Now, the former Melburnian of the Year has decided to go one step further, by walking from Melbourne to Canberra to call for a national solution to homelessness.

Nottle is due to set off from Bourke St on his 700 km Walk the Walk for the Homeless on 8 September accompanied by a support crew including his wife Sandra and their youngest daughter Kineisha.

During his 40 day journey he plans to meet as many people as possible to gather support and raise funds to help the homeless.

In this week’s Changemaker, he talks about what drove him to walk for 40 days, the importance of building connections with people and making sure no-one gets left behind.

What first attracted you to The Salvation Army?

It was probably some family issues, going back a generation, where my grandmother was seven and a half months pregnant with my mother and her husband passed away suddenly and they were in serious financial trouble. And it was almost by a chance engagement with The Salvation Army that led The Salvation Army to follow the family up and support them with just basics, to start with. Then what happened was The Salvation Army started to provide more holistic support to the family. And I think there has been that, not so much a connection to The Salvation Army but more the DNA being built into us about the need to look out for others, particularly those who are vulnerable.

You lead The Salvation Army Melbourne Project 614, what does that involve?

Brendan and Sandra Nottle

Brendan and Sandra Nottle

My wife Sandra and I work together and this is our 15th year. We’ve got a fantastic team that is based here, so about 20 employed staff and there is also over 1,000 volunteers.

The focus of Project 614 is really on connecting with the most vulnerable in and around the city and then doing everything we can to not just support them but to help create pathways with them out of their situation, their current state of marginalisation.

You have hundreds of interactions every day with people on the streets. Are there any stories that stand out for you?

I think, particularly stories that, and there are plenty of them, are really powerful reminders that the stereotypical views that some people hold about people who are vulnerable, especially those that are homeless, are often incorrect. You find out they are incorrect when you dig beneath the surface and find out a person’s true story and rather than directing judgement toward that person, when you hear their story I don’t think you can do anything else but just be filled with admiration for their resilience in the face of some of the difficulties they’ve encountered.

Probably the most powerful stories for me are those that involve people being victims and then survivors of family violence, absolutely horrific stories involving women and children, and then seeing those people, you’d have to say permanently damaged as a result of that violence and in some cases sexual abuse, but they keep going and not only do they keep going but they have got this desire to help others, particularly others that are facing similar circumstances to themselves. And I see that and I hear those stories pretty regularly and I just find it pretty astounding people are not only able to keep going but they’re actually able and willing to help others. I just think it is quite incredible.

How did the Walk the Walk for the Homeless project come about?

It really came out of a sense of frustration about the increasing number of people sleeping rough but also affected by homelessness. There’s been lots of work, good work, done by lots of agencies and done by the City of Melbourne, and more so the state government. But on hearing people’s stories who are on the streets and affected by homelessness, I was reminded over and over again that homelessness in the city of Melbourne is not a uniquely city of Melbourne issue.

When people become homeless in the city of Melbourne, they’re homelessness journey really starts in the suburbs and the regional and rural areas, many years earlier, it very rarely starts in the city of Melbourne. And yet, there is this sense that within the city of Melbourne we can fully address homelessness with our own resources. I think I’m reminded over and over when I hear people’s stories that seriously if we’re really going to address homelessness in the city of Melbourne, the only way that will effectively do that is through a national plan and that is the same with homelessness in cities right around the country.

If we’re going to address homelessness, we need a national plan, that acknowledges that homelessness often starts in regional and rural areas and suburbs across the nation and we need a plan that is very well resourced and well resourced for the long term and supported in a bipartisan way so that if one government commits to a national plan, we don’t want that plan to disappear because there may be a change of government down the track.

Can homelessness be solved or is the problem too huge?

I think it has to be solved. I think it is an absolute blight on Australian society that we have not just so many people who are homeless and who are affected by homeless, but that the numbers are increasing right across the country. And you don’t need stats to know that, you can see it with your own eyes, when you wander around Melbourne or wander around other cities and communities. It is one of those issues. But as a civilised nation, if we’re not resolving homelessness we should certainly be committed to a long-term plan to do everything we can to resolve homelessness. I think the reality is the issues are so entrenched we’re not going to solve it overnight, it needs to be a plan that works towards solving it within a generation. We need that commitment at the federal level, not just by government but by politicians of all persuasions to develop a plan and then implement it and then resource it for the long term.

Brendan Nottle talking with someoneThrough your work, what is your ultimate goal?

I think in the work that we do I think it is really important to have opportunity to build connection with people who are vulnerable and we need to work with them to develop plans that really help get them back on their feet. And one of the things that I really enjoy doing is working in a team and working with other teams that are innovative and creative in the way they go about coming up with ideas to resolve entrenched issues in our community, and homelessness is one of those key issues that we want to resolve.

How do you stay motivated?

I think one is having such a superb team. They’re highly committed and I think that energy that exists within the team it energises me and inspires me. I think hearing the stories of people that are homeless and seeing the fact that many of them actually want to get on their feet and they need some support, that inspires me to get out of bed in the morning and engage, and I think seeing some innovative and creative ideas have an impact inspires me to work even harder to come up with more ideas that will have an impact, to get people on their feet as well.

You were previously named Melburnian of the Year. How does it feel to be recognised for the work that you do?

I saw that as a great honour to receive that but I actually received it on behalf of our team. I think that if I was attempting to do this work on my own I would have no impact. So I received that award as an award on behalf of our whole team, because as I mentioned, they are all unbelievably committed and passionate and driven to make a difference for those that are really struggling and I think there is a desire within this team to actually provide a voice to the voiceless and to make sure that there is no one forgotten and no one left behind in our city, which I think is a highly admirable quality and it is something that they need to be acknowledged for.

How do you find time for yourself?

I enjoy walking. I am a passionate Collingwood supporter. I enjoy every now and again going to a game. I enjoy reading. I’ve got a great family, so I enjoy spending time with my family as well. And I think it is about having a family that understand your passion but also have the courage to speak up every now and again and say: “Hey, maybe it’s time you take a break, maybe it’s time we spent some time together rather than you always working”. So I think having people around you putting boundaries down every now and again is critically important. I think the other thing too is having good mentors, that really keep you focused and keep you on track, and keep you inspired is critically important as well.

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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