WHEN Judge Michael Rackemann hands out coats to the homeless there are no judgements attached.
“Anyone can finish up living on the streets,” the Brisbane District Court judge said.
“It is heartening as I walk around Brisbane to see, from time to time, people making good use of the coats.
“But to be perfectly frank, I find that in this ministry with the homeless I get as much or more than I can give.”
Judge Rackemann has been working with the Order of Malta’s Coats for the Homeless project in south-east Queensland for five years.
He and another Knight of Malta Derek Pingel are co-ordinating the Queensland distribution of 1000 coats between Caboolture and Coolangatta and as far west as Stanthorpe.
About 3000 coats will be distributed nationally. Simon National Carriers provides assistance with the storage and interstate transport of the coats.
Because the ancient order has only 50 members in the Queensland branch, it implements the distribution of coats in partnership with existing Catholic networks such as the St Vincent de Paul Society, Rosies and various school initiatives.
These include Eddie’s Van, run by students from St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace, and Paddy’s Van, operated by St Patrick’s College, Shorncliffe.
Members of the order have a hands-on involvement in that distribution.
On July 17, Judge Rackemann and Mr Pingel attended a barbecue at The Digger’s Rest Park, Goodna.
Councillor Paul Tully has provided substantial funds to the order for the purchase of coats on behalf of the Ipswich City Council to give coats to the homeless.
“We’ll be bringing nine boxes of coats with us, which means more than 100 coats for the homeless,” he said.
“Feedback from the homeless is extremely positive about the usefulness of the coats.
“The coats are new, individually wrapped in plastic and purpose-designed.
“They are one-size-fits-all, three-quarter length, quilted, warm and showerproof.
“They have hidden internal pockets, to conceal what few valuables the homeless have.”
Every day almost 20,000 Australians sleep rough on the streets in towns and cities.
Half of all the people who request accommodation from the homelessness service providers are turned away each day due to lack of beds.
Judge Rackemann said handing out the coats “would not solve the homelessness problem”.
“But the reality is that people are on the streets and do have need of coats for comfort and protection from the elements,” he said.
“Also the physical giving of these coats person-to-person provides an opportunity for empathetic human interaction and fellowship, which is important.”
The Coats for the Homeless program is an Australia-wide project of the Order of Malta, one of the oldest charitable institutions on the globe, dating back to about 1048, with the building of a church, convent and hospital in Jerusalem, to care for pilgrims of any religious faith or race.
It now operates in more than 120 countries. The goal in Queensland is to double the distribution of coats within the next 12 months.
“That can only be done if donations to the program also double,” Judge Rackemann said.
“A $100 tax-deductible donation will fund three coats.”
Donations can be sent to “The Order of Malta coats for the homeless – Queensland appeal”, PO Box 104 Gatton 4343 or via the order’s website orderofmalta.org.au.