Because I am fairly well known through my welfare and media activities and not afraid to speak my mind and because I try very hard to do what I say I will do, people often approach me and ask for help with various issues that need addressing.
What I do is listen to the appeal with my very soul and if my soul says “yes” then I do my utmost to help.
I have learned not to be afraid to say “yes”. What I have learned from that is that, although I do get inundated at times usually everything works out.
I suppose my basic philosophy is “do all you can Bill to give some poor bugger a break”. That means I do get involved in many different issues but they can all be linked to the “give a poor bugger a break” philosophy.
That to me seems a pretty clear job description.
It all began at The Wayside Chapel with homeless and runaway kids in Kings Cross in 1970. Those kids ran away because they were being abused either in the very institutions set up to help them or by adoptive parents and other adults who for whatever reason had taken them in. I remember thinking then “this is wrong”. What is happening to these kids is wrong – I must do something about it.
Together with Ted Noffs at the Wayside Chapel I established many programs including Life Education Centres and The Wayside Chapel Crisis Centre.
Eventually I ran all the social work programs of the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross, Sydney, Australia, many of which I had started.
Moving forward to 1986 I was ordained Minister at Ashfield Uniting Church and one of the first programs there I started was Uniting Families a support and self help group for families of kids who had died from drug overdoses. In those days the number of kids dying from drug overdoses equalled or probably exceeded the number of young people dying in car crashes. Every night I ran that group it was like Week 1. Every night a new family would come in mourning the loss of their loved one. Often they were in great distress and had no sympathetic ear to hear their cries of pain. In those days to have a drug death in the family was something you didn’t share with or talk with neighbours or friends. No one wanted to know about drug deaths.
I also began a support group for families of kids who had suicided. If you think running a group of parents mourning their children to drug deaths was hard, it was nothing compared to the parents of children who had suicided. I started this group with a good friend of mine Jack Heath, a Buddhist who subsequently founded the Reach Out Foundation. We would typically end our meetings in a huddle with Jack leading a Buddhist mantra meditation and me with a prayer. I vividly remember one mother telling us as her son ran towards the cliffs that he had a look on his face like he was jumping into God’s arms. It is something I think about over and over.
In 1989 I began The Exodus Foundation (www.exodusfoundation.org.au) which became famous for its Loaves & Fishes Free Restaurant for Sydney’s poor, needy, homeless and lonely. Today we serve over 1,000 meals every day. After taking in countless homeless kids I established the Exodus Tutorial Centres which teach illiterate kids coming up to high school to read so they won’t end up an unemployment statistic. Later, I began Exodus House a school for kids who had fallen out of school.
The work grew and spread. Poor buggers in trouble are really my family. Particularly kids. Often they are the ones who spray their pain on walls and doors thereby gaining the ire of society.
I find comfort and acceptance sitting with the guests in our Loaves & Fishes Free Restaurant and sitting on door steps anywhere with kids in trouble. Unfortunately I find I have to spend heaps of time “managing” these projects as they need to stay kind. Often the very projects set up to help people somehow without constant supervision lose their very heart and kindness and I need to make sure that remains. What is the point of providing a homeless person with a meal and a lecture that makes that person feel even worse after eating the meal than before? Yet, time after time I have seen that happen. It is almost as if we middle class people have great difficulty with the concept of freely giving. I think sometimes middle class people think that they are more needy and more deserving than those who have nothing.
My congregation is very multi-cultural and so I found myself getting involved with situations outside of Sydney and outside of Australia. But the philosophy was always the same. If I got the feeling in the back of my neck or my soul told me “Bill, this is wrong” then I would do all I could to help.
Inevitably, I suppose this work began to expand outside of the Sydney basin. After a great deal of thought and considerable personal pain it was decided that the Exodus Foundation would concentrate on meals and education within the Sydney basin. The other work would be under The Bill Crews Charitable Trust banner. The Bill Crews Charitable Trust would be more entrepreneurial and nimble than The Exodus Foundation. The Exodus Foundation is part of the Uniting Church in Australia but The Bill Crews Charitable Trust is separate from it. This would guarantee the funding for The Exodus Foundation whilst allowing for entrepreneurial projects to live or die as monies became available.
Thus, in Darwin as well as running a Tutorial Centre, I work with Aboriginal kids who need to be diverted from the justice system into the education system. One young boy getting his girlfriend pregnant wrote in his diary “I want to be the best Dad I can be”. That boy and those like him deserve all the help, encouragement and love they can get. I also got caught up with homeless kids on the streets of Bangkok. Now here I have got to say that everything I have seen on the streets of Bangkok I have seen on the streets of Sydney. Many people don’t believe me when I say that but I have learned today that poverty has no boundaries! There was a young boy in Bangkok I worked with, Beer. He was eighteen and very loving. Very slowly I watched him die of AIDS because his mental condition meant that whenever he felt okay he would stop taking his medication. To watch this was very painful and to this very day I pray for him. Nowadays in Bangkok we have a Youth Refuge right next to Bangkok railway station and we work very closely with PLAN to give as many kids a break as we can.
Out of our work in Bangkok we established a Homework Hub in Hong Kong. We are situated in the suburb of Sham Shui Po. I will never forget meeting one young mother who wanted to give all she could to enable her young disabled son, James, to have a future which because of the fledgling welfare set up there was being denied him. She did not know me from a bar of soap and spent days with an interpreter to write a welcome note to me when we met.
If you want to ask what is on my mind at the moment I have to say that it is the street children and begging children of Poipet, Cambodia. There the kids are bought and sold like slaves and forced to do unspeakable things to bring in the money their “owners” demand of them and I know of trafficked kids forced to work on fishing boats being tossed into the sea when sick or ill. I have spent days there with the saints who work with them and it rips at my heart when I leave. To think members of the Australian Government would even consider sending refugees to be settled there in a country that collectively is still suffering PTSD from the genocide of Pol Pot makes me feel really ashamed. From what I can see probably half the western adults (mainly male) who travel there to sexually use these kids are westerners, the majority of whom are Australian and it makes me feel very ashamed indeed.
Out of all of that a couple of years ago I established the Big Picture Film Festival – (www.thebigpicture.org.au ). A Social Justice Film festival, run over a week in Event Cinemas in Sydney. The aim is to hopefully provide a forum for others to get that feeling at the back of the neck that I get when I see something that is wrong and then encourage them to do something about it. Hopefully many will take up this challenge.
This Festival has been so positive that I have had bites from Odeon Cinemas in London and groups in New York and Washington to bring it there.
I hope that gives you a picture or at least a bit of a glimpse of some of what I do. As always I am looking for help both financial and skill wise to keep all this going. I need good committed people to help. I don’t need people who like to talk things over and over in a politically correct way over a cup of coffee in some trendy coffee shop and then go home. I need people who want to do all they can to help pick some poor buggers little or big up out of the ditch and set them on a path to realising their full potential. That takes money and commitment and if you want to help me and not waste my time contact me at [email protected]