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Mel’s camper helps the homeless in Far North Queensland

Geoff Ward donates his camper to Atherton Tablelands Corps leader Miriam Newton-Gentle.

The donation of a camper trailer to Atherton Tablelands Corps in Far North Queensland will enable The Salvation Army to better support people experiencing homelessness in the area.

Early last month, Atherton Tablelands Corps Ministry Worker Miriam Newton-Gentle received a phone call “out-of-the-blue” through her local Family Store. A couple was moving to Western Australia and wanted to donate their quality camper trailer to assist people in need.

“It’s large enough to house a family,” said Miriam of the donated camper. “We support quite a few families experiencing homelessness in the area, and this will be a valuable asset to assist them. It was such a blessing to receive that phone call!”

A few days later, Geoff Ward came to meet Miriam and drop off the camper. For him, the donation was personally meaningful – his daughter struggled with experiences of homelessness throughout her life. She passed away last year, and Geoff and his wife Alexis wanted to see the camper used for others in similar circumstances. Their only request was that the camper have a plaque on the outside naming it, “Mel’s Camper” and a sign on the inside so that those who use it can read a bit of Mel’s story:

The donated trailer is named ‘Mel’s Camper’ after Geoff and Alexis Ward’s daughter, Melanie, who passed away in 2022. She had experienced homelessness during her life.

Mel’s Camper

This camper has been donated to the Tolga Salvation Army Branch at Tolga [Tolga is near Atherton]. It is in memory of our darling daughter who passed away in 2022 and is missed every day. Melanie found accommodation so hard to find that she always kept a tent in her car. If she were alive now, I would be donating the camper to her instead. Alexis and Geoff (me) are relocating to West Australia and wish the occupants of the camper all the best for their future and the sincere thanks to the Salvos for their work helping people find accommodation. Being homeless can happen to anybody young or old. Nobody wants it. Having this chance will boost your morale and hopefully lead to finding a permanent home. Regards from Alexis and Geoff Ward. Melanie Louise Ward 1984 to 2022”

The camper will be used to house people experiencing homelessness in the Atherton Tablelands area for four to six weeks before being returned, cleaned and lent out again. The Salvation Army will also pay for the campsite rental and work with the family or individual on ways that they can adjust to their new way of living, with the aim of securing stable accommodation in the medium to longer term.

Miriam said the corps and Family Store was giving away two to three tents a week to people experiencing homelessness, and she had recently put a request out to the community through the local newspaper for more tents to be donated.

“I said I didn’t care what condition they were in – people need a decent one to sleep in, and then they need another one to put their rubbish in, their dirty washing, etc.”

Someone cares

She said the number of people living in cars or tents was increasing. “I had a family of five kids and mum and dad, and there was grandma, but grandma passed away sadly while they were living in tent accommodation,” she said. “They have been in tents for 15 months in the back of one of the local caravan parks.

“Those kids haven’t missed a beat for school. We secured an extra small tent for their boy in high school so he can sit in it and do his homework and study. They are such amazing and resilient people.”

She said the family was being supported by the corps and The Salvation Army’s Doorways team and had just last week moved into a home they are house-sitting for a year while its occupants are away.

“I am so glad they are getting into a house,” said Miriam. “Throughout it all, they have been so stoic, but what is important for them to know is that they are not alone. They just need to know that someone knows that they are there and someone cares. So, when it gets tough, they can pick up the phone and have someone who cares to listen to them.”

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