December 1, 2015
Another Day in Paradise
Crystal oceans, breathtaking beaches and beautiful people: the Sunshine Coast lays justifiable claim to being fit for a postcard. But tonight, 400 of our fellow locals will sleep under the stars: on those same sands and on the streets, in a life befitting anything other than paradise.
For eight years, Morrie Evans has led a team devoted to bringing back hope to the homeless, the beaten, and the misunderstood. As he now steps back from his role, this Vietnam War veteran pays tribute to the greatest battlers he has ever known.
On the day of our interview, the father-of-three has just returned from a lunch date with a difference – helping deliver food, clothing, blankets and even give haircuts to 70 homeless or disadvantaged local ‘residents’ on the annual Sunshine Coast Homeless Connect Day.
This is no perfunctory day job – the night’s dinner plans for Morrie consist of sitting down with one of the Coast’s most notorious, “problematic” yet proud displaced community groups at St Johns Landing in Noosa.
“As a society we have changed. We are less conscious of our neighbours and other people, so people feel more isolated – even though we live in this modern society,” the Coast2Bay Housing Group general manager explains.
“I’m an older person and I grew up in small communities. We knew everybody in our street and if I got into mischief I would be dragged home by the ear by any one of them.
“These days our focus is on ourselves and family. But if you don’t have that mechanism to provide that safe space then the problem escalates and becomes more significant.”
For 23 years Coast2Bay Housing Group – originally named the Sunshine Coast Housing Company – has worked tirelessly in making the cost of living and rental expenses bearable to those in low socio economic circles.
The biggest impact for me was sensing the culture of the people who were here. The first thing you notice is the passion that people have and that blew me away.
When Morrie joined the team in 2007, he brought with him an incredible portfolio that even he could never have imagined he would culminate after joining the Army as an “aimless” 17-year-old.
But what he carried with him from his childhood as the oldest of five children, whose parents struggled to make ends meet, was a work ethic and a resilience that he now recognises in the under-privileged who cross his path every day.
For two decades, Morrie would travel the world as a member of the Australian Army – first as part of the artillery corps and then in personal management logistics.
He and second wife Annie then embarked on a chance journey with the Defence Housing Authority, which saw him travel over Australia creating systems development and the delivery of policy support services.
It also took him to Canada as the general manager of operations for the Canadian Forces Housing agency – singlehandedly being responsible for 20,000 dwellings across Canada.
Despite being offered a second contract, Morrie explains he owed his family a move to a warmer location, and the pair settled on the Sunshine Coast, opening a small secretarial/office company called ‘The Noosa Office’.
It was during this last stage of his career, that Morrie crossed the path of Coast2Bay.
“The biggest impact for me was sensing the culture of the people who were here. The first thing you notice is the passion that people have and that blew me away.
“We were only a small team of 10 in those days, some of those people are still here. Amazing people who are so focused on helping and the lengths they go to provide it. It’s passion – there is no other word to describe it.”
Upon retiring in September, he acknowledges there is some unfinished business that will sit heavy on his heart.
Like St Johns Landing, a campsite home to 60 people including 22 children. Coast2Bay has been working with a large number of organisations that have helped St Johns Landing residents find homes, only to abandon it and return to the campsite that keeps calling them back.
With high levels of mental health issues, cognitive disabilities and reports of high level of drug activities, the St Johns Landing project has been one of Coast2Bay’s top campaigns that is still looking for a solution.
“Why? Well unlike other displaced communities, St Johns Landing residents feel safer together than out on their own under a roof. But we will keep working away,” explains Morrie.
That they will, as Morrie retires leaving the Coast2Bay mission in what he says unequivocally are strong hands.
“I’ve enjoyed all my jobs, but this one in particular is special. This is the easiest job I have had working with people, and it’s been the most rewarding job of working with people. Because it’s these people who are special.”
ACHIEVEMENTS FOR THE SUNSHINE COAST
Partners in Recovery Systems Gap Initiative: An eight bed short-term housing option called “Daliya House” for homeless residents recently treated in hospital. Previously homeless residents – with no discharged address – were kept in hospital for weeks at a time despite good health until housing was established. The scheme was this year awarded an Australian Housing Institute of Excellence Award in Housing.
The Sunshine Coast National Rental Affordability Scheme: a partnership between the Australian Government and the States and Territories to invest in affordable rental housing.
Caloundra Domestic Violence Shelter: The Zonta Club of Australia and Coast2Bay’s shelter for women and their families in need.