‘I did nothing and I will regret this until the day I die’
A BABY is dead. A family is in ruins. A brother will never see his sister again. It is a tragedy unfathomable and yet it was highly predictable and many of us will live with the shame and the guilt that we did not do more.
Personally, I did nothing and I will regret this until the day I die.
I was first alerted to this family six months ago when a friend copied me into an email she sent to Cr Gary Baildon about concerns she had for the children.
Could I help? A homeless couple with two kids (one just a little baby) are sleeping rough in Surfers. She sent it to me because she thought I could do something.
You see, I used to run a homeless organisation here on the Gold Coast. I know where the shelters are and who runs them.
I know about the mental health system and the detox centres and where to go for rehab. I know about the long waiting lists for public housing.
I know there are only two domestic violence shelters on the Gold Coast and one general shelter for females. I
know there is nowhere for a family to go for crisis accommodation.
I considered doing something but I was not in the crisis business anymore and I was tired. So I did nothing.
I knew that the family had made contact previously with St Johns in Surfers as just about every other homeless person in town has as well, for food, clothing and advice.
I knew the police had contact with the family. I knew Children's Services were monitoring the family. So I was content with this knowledge and I did nothing else.
I thought briefly I should go and see them like I had done on so many occasions before with people in dire straits and who society has forgotten or they are simply in the too-hard basket for any other government agency to deal with.
People I have seen on my own time and by myself never knowing if this might be the time I will be attacked.
We in this industry have a lot of protocols about safety for ourselves, our staff and our volunteers. Often the rule book was thrown out the window simply because another human being needed my help.
Like the lady who was living in a hostel needing food and, using my own money, I took her shopping.
Or another lady I picked up early in the morning to take to a detox centre, shaking with fear knowing she would not be having any drugs for the next nine days, a process she had done many, many times before.
Was that enough then? At the time, for those people it was. Being selfish, I decided this family was not my problem at this particular time.
My friend saw me again a few weeks later and said the family is still there, can I help? She was worried about the baby.
Knowing there was nowhere for this family to go I made platitudes about the fact that if the baby was being fed and it was being clothed then in spite of living in a tent and being homeless, Children's Services would most probably not intervene.
That being homeless did not make you a bad parent. I told her not to worry too much as I had seen so many children in much worse conditions than that.
I still did nothing. It nagged at me for a while and I secretly hoped that they would move on to somewhere else and I wouldn't have to deal with them.
I reflect on why I chose to do nothing for this family because on other occasions I have gone above and beyond the call of duty, like many of us have.
I allowed a homeless man to house-sit my unit when I went on holidays for three weeks. I took a punt and the place was still standing when I got back.
Another time I let a homeless man, moving between a boarding house and his new unit, to sleep on my couch for three days. He'd been off drugs for six months and was getting his life back on track. I survived. He survived.
Was that enough? It was for them but this family played on my mind and yet I still did nothing. Why? Very simply, at that particular time, I was tired of helping people.
All of us, the police, support workers, crisis intervention staff, counsellors, the clergy, ambos, volunteers get tired of the issues. We do not tire of the human beings, it's always the issues.
The never-ending supply of people affected by homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, family violence and mental health issues.
These issues are all so intricately linked. We wonder when solutions will be found. We wonder if we should be chipping away day by day, individual by individual, if we are truly making a difference.
Children's Services workers drown under a mountain of paperwork and there are not enough foster carers for the children who are in the system now let alone the tens of thousands who the community wishes were taken from their parents and put into care.
The Department of Housing has a limited supply and a never-ending list of hopefuls.
We ask for more funding, we raise money for our causes and the community goes merrily on its way hoping the government, community groups and individuals like me will deal with the nasty side of life.
Well, sometimes we can't. Sometimes we hope someone else will do it, just like you.
During the coming weeks and months, there will be a lot of finger pointing and the laying of blame. Could the police have done more? Probably not! Should Family Services have done more? Probably! Should I have done something? Absolutely.
Some on the Gold Coast who had contact with or knew of this family will have sleepless nights, be full of remorse and will carry a lot of guilt for a very long time. I will not carry this burden alone but it is a burden I will bear.
We will cry for this baby. We will question our commitment to our clients. We will pray for the family. We will ask for forgiveness.
I have no idea how to face my friend who originally notified me of this family's plight.
She tried everyone she could think of to get help for this family and this newborn baby and I let her down. We all let her down. We are all responsible for this little baby's death.
All we can do is learn from this terrible tragedy, be supportive of our Government and community workers and try to do better next time.