The number of women facing homelessness and abuse in a Sydney beachside suburb is on the rise, according to a charity boss.
Gym owner Ian Schaffa, a former professional fighter, who founded The Street Buffet to feed the homeless and people in need in Maroubra and Woolloomooloo, said there had been a clear spike in the number of women and single mums seeking help.
“[It’s] mainly men, middle-aged men to older men in the city,” he told Central News.
“But in Maroubra, it’s more women and single mums.
“And I’m witnessing also like abuse is turning on, sexual abuse is turning on, I’m hearing about it, I’m watching it, like domestic violence, it’s on.”
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2021, there are 3,639 one-parent families and 5,590 people with a mental health condition, including depression or anxiety, living in Maroubra.
If they can afford rent, they can’t afford food. If they can afford fuel, they can’t afford food.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported in 2021-2022 that 108,000 clients (39 per cent) from specialist homelessness services had experienced domestic and family violence. Of these 108,000 clients, over three in four were women or girls.
Schaffa, who fought as a kickboxer and mixed martial artist, was homeless himself for two to three years from the age of 15.
The 45-year-old started The Street Buffet in 2015 as an official charity providing food and supplies at Woolloomooloo every Sunday afternoon, with the intention to “support as many people as possible”.
“If I can give them that one hour of optimism a week, at least that’s 52 hours a year,” he said.
Around 2009 Schaffa started buying sandwiches from Coles to feed people at Woolloomooloo.
“That led to me getting pizza and sitting down and eating with them,” he said. “We’d exchange stories about fights, street fights and we got along.
“I made friends.”
Last month, The Street Buffet announced its launch in Maroubra to provide a service on Saturday, outside Schaffa’s gym Smmash Australia.
“I’m here because they need the food for that day, they need the support for that day,” Schaffa said.
“If they can afford rent, they can’t afford food. If they can afford fuel, they can’t afford food.”
Schaffa said people in Maroubra need the support.
“I’m actually seeing it daily because I have my gym here,” he said. “There’s mental illness and trauma. And I think that’s everywhere I go.
“Maroubra is a different demographic [to Woolloomooloo], they’re not homeless. They’re people in need or people who just can’t get together, or a single mum who might not want to cook on a Saturday.”
Schaffa said there were many challenges.
“The biggest barrier I’ve experienced is having no food and you have to apologise,” he said. “When we’re out of sponsors, yeah it’s scary.
“And when volunteers don’t show up, you’re screwed.”
The Street Buffet works alongside the mobile voluntary service, Homeless Not Nameless in Woolloomooloo. The founder of Homeless Not Nameless, Penny Kehoe said Schaffa “does a lot for the community on both sides of the table.”
“So from behind the table, he has brought down volunteers who are struggling themselves and he gives them purpose and jobs to do,” she said.
“And then in front of the table, he communicates, he engages, he talks to them, he chats to them.
“Some of these guys haven’t spoken to anybody all day, and he’ll give them his time.”
Boxer, Phillip James McDonald, said he and Schaffa have known each other for five years and have a “deep friendship and connection through boxing”. McDonald said that not a lot of people know Schaffa was actually homeless himself.
“He was living on the trains for about three years,” McDonald said.
“Ian’s story really is a rags to riches story, not riches in terms of money, but riches in terms of achievement against the odds.”
The Street Buffet sources its food from sponsors of restaurants, cafes and volunteers. Schaffa said their weekly donors are Site Pizza Bar and Bourke Street Bakery who donate a generous supply of food. The Street Buffet also receives donations from Fly By Fun providing resources such as cutlery and containers.
The owner of Site Pizza Bar, Glen Mezei said he loves “watching the people’s faces and feedback”.
“People with a bit of a smile on their faces,” Mezei said.
“I just always put myself out there to help others because what goes around comes around and you never know when you need it.
“It’s a very hard time to ask for people now… and you know, not everyone can help. I just feel this is what I can do and whilst I can still do it, I do my best to keep it up.
“I want to be part of it.”
If you know anyone in need of food and resources:
- Please let them know of this support.
- The Street Buffet is here for everyone and available every Saturday at 5pm in Maroubra and Sunday at 4.30pm in Woolloomooloo.
If you are interested in donating or volunteering:
Main image by Acacia Soares.