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Friday, 05 August 2011 00:11

A Good Shepherd in Kings Cross

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"Why wouldn't Good Shepherd be here?" she asked.

"Being Good Shepherd means being with the most vulnerable people, often the most difficult to like people, and the ones on the outer. Injecting drug users are people who are disadvantaged, vulnerable and also unpopular because as we know they can behave badly and be so antisocial. They are definitely not the people we invite into our homes."

Noelene has been a pastoral care worker at the controversial centre since it began in 2001 and she was delighted with the announcement of the NSW Government's intention to end the nine-year "trial" status, and make the Centre a permanent part of the NSW health system.

Noelene believes the MSIC, which is a health facility, is just one part of a treatment spectrum for drug users. She is confident that permanent status will provide stability for staff and clients and allow the Centre to become part of mainstream health services.

"I believe this will open up greater opportunities for referral to and working more closely with other services in the community," Noelene said.

After years of working around Kings Cross Noelene knows many of the people who use the Centre and understands that many of them live with complex issues of health, mental health and homelessness. So the much-maligned Medically Supervised Injecting Centre is for Noelene, a natural place for Good Shepherd to be.

"I go there to be a presence, valuing and respecting the person, to be non-judgmental, to believe in the potential in people for life, to walk with them in their messy and painful lives - to listen and ask the right questions, to be aware of the loss, pain and hopelessness that are part of addiction. That is where the compassionate heart of a Shepherd God needs to be. I go there to be a compassionate presence of a non-judgmental God", she said.

Noelene has had to face her own challenges at the Centre. At the beginning she found it difficult being with people while they actually injected themselves with drugs. The Centre is made up of three stages - an assessment area, injecting room and aftercare area. She wanders through all areas but spends most of her time in the aftercare area being available to people who need her.

"Many of us know injecting drug users, but we are not usually present while the injecting takes place. We don't sit there as they put the needle into their arm or wherever. This was a very confronting experience - for me and for the clients. There is a lot of guilt and shame attached to drug using, so initially I made sure that clients who knew me over the years in Kings Cross, were aware that I would be at the Centre. I felt they needed to know that rather than suddenly be confronted with my presence," she said.

On average 200 injecting episodes occur at MSIC each day. More than 8500 referrals to health and welfare services have been made, with more than half of these to services that specialise in the treatment of drug addiction. Noelene said MSIC has treated more than 3500 overdoses without the loss of a life. If these overdoses occurred outside the Centre, how many would not have been found in time - how many would not have survived?

"'One person is of more value than a world' is something I see being lived every day at MSIC. The staff relate to the clients with real respect and dignity - and the clients notice and comment on this. It is clear that this is an unusual experience for them.

"At MSIC I often feel I do very little but I also know I have had some very significant experiences. I have sat with individuals struggling to find the courage to enter a rehab program and given them a blessing and promise of prayer when they finally make the commitment," Noelene said.

"I have sat with someone who was alive only because of the professional and prompt response of MSIC staff - and all concerned knew it and were overwhelmed by it. And I have listened to talented people who have lost everything, including their family and felt their shame in that. I see the constant struggle of living with addiction and what a huge achievement it is when someone stays 'clean' - even for a time."

"While we would like to be in a society free of drug use and addiction, the sad reality is otherwise.  These marginalised members of our society still need our support."

This story by Rosie Hoban, Communications for Good Shepherd's Mission and Justice was first published in the Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand staff bulletin. * Photo from The Catholic Weekly

Pathways November 2010

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"Such courage, compassion and fidelity. Noelene, you are an encouragement and inspiration to all of us. Keep on going with our prayerful support."
- Pat Lynch, 22-11-2010

"Noelene, it's ages since I have heard of you .... good to hear that you are still 'on the beat', same place different beat; as I say to myself as I walk the prison 'I am visiting men, not their crimes'! Blessings Geraldine M"
- Geraldine Mugavin, 23-11-2010

"Christ has no body now but yours No hands no feet on earth but yours Yours are the eyes with which He looks Compassion on his world Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good Yours are the hands with which he blesses all the world Yours are the hands Yours are the feet Yours are the eyes You are his body. God bless you! "
- Sutisa, 01-12-2010

"Noelene, we must meet. I have just begun at JRS in Kings Cross. What a courageous and caring woman you are. "
- Kathleen Moran, 03-12-2010