There are some people who look at an ongoing problem and think, “what a shame.” There are others who look and think, “I’m not going to let that go unchallenged. I’m going to do something about it.”
AJ, founder of the homelessness charity Ruf Us is one of the latter. She identified a lack of charities in Adelaide providing hands-on services to homeless people.
“I had done the work informally for years,” AJ says. “But then I started to get media interest and that brought on a lot of offers to further my work, and so that was when I formalised a charity in October of 2010.”
Every Saturday Ruf Us, pronounced “Roof-us”, hits the streets of Adelaide and provides goods such as meals, toiletries, clothing, and street swags for homeless people.
AJ states, “The women often have issues with feminine hygiene products. So we try and address those issues as well.”
Assistance from Ruf Us does not stop once a homeless person has left the streets.
“When someone is housed, whether they have been homeless or the women and children are victims of domestic violence, the social workers ring us and we outfit and furnish the houses for those people.
“That means collecting all those items for distribution back to those people. We provide home support, we provide food support. Sometimes we will assist in a relatively small way with bills such as water, electricity, gas, rental assistance as well.”
"The Advertiser was going to report on the murder of a homeless person in Adelaide, but killed the story in favour of one about a lottery-winner..."
AJ says that someone is not able to turn his or her life around unless they have a home. “One can’t go to work, or function without the necessary requirements for housing.”
The history of the charity’s name is a combination of two things. Firstly of the fundamental right to housing, as enshrined in Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and secondly, a tribute to AJ’s son, who wanted to be called “Rufus” as a child.
AJ describes the process of forming a charity as “amazingly complex.”
“It’s a legal procedure which then involves ATO approvals and it’s actually quite costly to go through that process and then of course we are bound by significant legislation and requirements. And then fulfil the requirements to be able to call ourselves a charitable trust.”
The reasons why people are homeless are also wide and varied, according to AJ.
“49 per cent of people become homeless due to mental illness and there is certainly a shortfall of mental health services in this country. So that’s a very big factor.
“Many more become homeless through changes in financial circumstances, which has become a big issue particularly since the GFC.”
The media hasn’t always been a helpful medium when trying to shine light on the problems homeless people face. AJ describes the time when South Australian newspaper The Advertiser was going to report on the murder of a homeless person in Adelaide, but killed the story in favour of one about a lottery-winner buying a house that once belonged to a famous footballer.
“I was extremely disappointed in that. That was my, well, I call them my ‘street family’, my ‘sons and daughters’. A lot of them call me ‘mum’. And that was the second of my ‘sons’ who had died in twelve months.
“He died as a result of injuries sustained in the south parklands. He was on life support for six days before it was turned off. I was approached four times by The Advertiser for comment, but then didn’t appear.”
Along with helping the homeless, AJ is also a professional public speaker on the subject of homelessness, as well as working with other anti-homelessness charities.
“I do a lot of public speaking, because I’m very, very keen to raise awareness and to educate people.”
AJ also explains that “we do a lot of liaison. We try and support other organisations and charities, sometimes with donations of goods that aren’t appropriate for us. We like to pass those on.”
More information about Ruf Us can be found at the organisation’s website.