Every weekday morning at 7.30am the kettle boils, the eggs are cooked and the toast is browned at the UnitingCare Early Morning Centre. The Centre opens its doors and welcomes all-comers in need of a hot breakfast, some company and other support.
The Early Morning Centre is a very special community service that has been providing activities and support to those at risk or experiencing homelessness in the ACT for many years. Located in the city, it is a place where those who come are called guests and are served a warm breakfast by volunteers. They can grab a shower, rent a postbox, wash their clothes, use the internet and even get a haircut. The Centre operates as a community hub, offering a free medical service, legal support, help to navigate Centrelink and access to counselling and other community services. While receiving a core grant from ACT Government, it is also supported by the Canberra City Uniting Church congregation, a group of committed volunteers and businesses across Canberra who want to support such a valuable community service.
This is a place that recognises the dignity and value of each person who gathers there, no matter their circumstances. It is a place that not only by offers the basic services needed to live a decent life but also offers a place to be safe, to build connections and to work through the issues that have led people to homelessness and disadvantage.
The heart of this service over the last eight years has been Chris Stokman. While many people lament the growing issue of homelessness and inequality in this affluent city, few have made such a direct contribution to reducing it as Chris. As Manager of the Centre, Chris dedicated her waking hours to making things better for individuals who were doing it tough. She offered kindness as well as useful support – without judgement or ego. She worked tirelessly to ensure that the Centre was a safe and welcoming space for guests, where people could gather and meet, or quietly read the paper and eat a hot meal. She strove to ensure that this was a place where everyone could get the services they needed – on their terms and on their timeline.
The community connected to the Early Morning Centre were devastated at the news that Chris passed away last week after a battle with cancer. With her passing, we lose a true hero in our community and one who embodied a life of service. So now in Anti-Poverty Week, in a city with so much wealth, but one with the second highest rate of homelessness in Australia, we reflect on the contribution Chris Stokman made to the EMC and to the community and celebrate this contribution. Her legacy will be a strong and vibrant service, and her inspiration as a role model to how we should all live our lives.
The UnitingCare Early Morning Centre operates from Pilgrim House each weekday morning. Information about the service, how to become a friend of the Centre and get involved is online here.