The Nagle Centre resonates with welcoming warmth, hospitality and, most of all, wonderful cooking smells.
Which is almost the perfect ambience for a place that is a haven for local homeless people, steadily streaming in all morning to get a hot cup of coffee and something to eat at this St Vincent de Paul crisis centre located in Iolanthe Street, one of the side streets of Campbelltown’s main thoroughfare, Queen Street.
By mid-morning the numbers have dropped off, but just before noon they pick up again as mostly homeless men, but also the odd woman, are coming in for lunch.
“We don’t judge,” says the centre manager, Donna Said.
“A lawyer from the firm across the road could drop in for a meal.”
The whiteboard menu confirms this, with the title written in capital letters, lest you miss the point: OPEN DOOR
The homeless are spread out, some outside having a cigarette, others inside in the dining area next to the kitchen sipping a coffee, including a 59-year-old man called Bert, who’s agreed to talk the South West Voice.
Saint Vincent de Paul was a Catholic priest who dedicated himself to serving the poor and was canonised in 1737. He was renowned for his compassion, humility and generosity.
He is known as the Great Apostle of Charity but if he spent just an hour or two at 22 Iolanthe Street watching the volunteers and staff, he would quickly recognise his own human values and his charity towards his fellow man down on his luck.
But even St Vinnie would be amazed at the generosity towards the homeless people or ones at risk of becoming homeless who walk through the doors of the Nagle Centre.
Emergency accommodation, help with electricity and telephone bills, clothing vouchers, advocacy and rental, and of course the hot breakfasts and lunches five days a week and an evening meal on Wednesday, as well as the educational courses on offer, are all on the menu, so to speak.
To put it all in perspective, just in October the Nagle Centre’s dedicated staff and volunteers served 475 breakfasts, 731 lunches and 113 dinners. During the same month it conducted 560 crisis team interviews.
Anyone who walks through its doors can expect to be helped in some way.
No wonder homeless people like Bert deeply appreciate how important it is to have places like the Nagle Centre.
“This is so nice, there’s so many nice people,” he says.
Bert confides in me that this is the second time in his life he has become homeless.
He cites a harsh bank and a death in the family as reasons he’s once again spending his nights looking for a safe spot around Campbelltown to sleep in.
“But during the day this is my life at the moment,” he says, pointing with his hands around the Nagle Centre.
Bert says he was born in Australia on the very first day his Bulgarian parents arrived here in 1955.
In 1974, living in the city, he became homeless for the first time, and decided to get out of town.
“I walked to Campbelltown – and back to the city later,” Bert says.
“It took me 18 hours, but I was young in those days; it would take a lot longer now.
“So now I’m back again.”
Bert says he worries about his safety while sleeping out, and often changes location, but won’t say if he has favourite spots or if they are close to the central business district.
“I worry a lot about some of the younger people, they are not as respectful as they were back then the first time I was homeless,” he says.
“And there’s a lot of drugs around these days, too.”
Bert says the Nagle Centre does a great job for homeless people like himself and understands its open door policy.
“But some people, you need to be a bit harder on them because they take advantage of things,” he says.
His own one vice is smoking, although Bert says he’s managed to cut back to “four or five a day”.
I ask him how he and other local homeless cope on weekends when Nagle Centre, like all such charitable organisations, closes its doors.
“We get into groups and cliques on weekends and stick together like that in groups and help each other,” Bert tells me.
Donna Said says it would be good if the centre could open on weekends, and she hopes that it may happen one day.
Ms Said, who previously worked for Mission Australia in Parramatta, says the only other time the centre is closed is three weeks at Christmas.
But she points out that feeding the homeless during the week is not its sole purpose and function.
Upstairs offices are dedicated to education, through learning courses of literacy and numeracy.
But the centre also offers the Clemente program, a free tertiary course provided in conjunction with the Australian Catholic University.
“People lose their jobs, their marriages and all of a sudden they need help because of their financial situation,” Donna Said says.
“We don’t judge them when they come here. We offer them a meal and if they want, education courses which may help them.
“They aren’t homeless at that stage, they are at risk of becoming homeless and we do what we can to help.”
But they do more than that of course, such as an annual Christmas party late in December where Santa will be handing out gifts to the children of people who are down on their luck at the moment.
Which would be just another thing that would amaze St Vincent de Paul himself.