Rabbi Mendel Kastel

About Rabbi Mendel Kastel

Born in New York, he received his rabbinical ordination from the Central Lubavitch Yeshiva in New York after studies in England and Australia. Rabbi Mendel Kastel joined the Jewish House Crisis Centre as the CEO at the beginning of 2008. He has maintained his portfolio of Chaplain to the NSW police, as well as his chaplaincy at most of the major hospitals in Sydney. He is personally involved with the rehabilitation of our crisis clients, and does much mediating with families, couples or parents and children. He served as rabbi of the Great Synagogue from1993 ­ 2008. He is past President of the NSW Rabbinical Council.

Homelessness: It’s closer than you think

How many missed pay cheques would it take for you to end up essentially homeless?

Right now you may be comfortable financially, perhaps a bit strained at times, but do you realise how easy it is for a small event to take place that could cause your finances, health and ultimately entire life to spiral?

It is a cliché to think the homeless are people we may throw a few dollars to as we pass them on the street, unable to imagine it could ever be us walking in their shoes.

Sadly, in this assumption you would be wrong.

Hearing the word “homeless”, people often think about rough sleepers (people sleeping on the street or in railway stations and bus shelters) and might never expect themselves to one day be in such living conditions.

However, people at risk of actually becoming homeless is a hidden affliction that affects a much larger proportion of Sydney than merely the most obvious ‘homeless’. It can strike anyone or any family, and is sometimes closer to our own homes than we know or suspect.

To be rendered homeless, often through no fault of your own, usually without any financial resources or family/community support, is potentially the lowest point one might reach in life. The most ordinary people may find themselves alone and frightened, potentially with mental health issues – these same people are those that myself and the staff at Jewish House open our doors and arms to in an effort to make them feel like they are at home in a safe place with people who care about them.

Many families suffer in silence for quite some time until they reach a crisis point and have to turn for help. Such people and their families may be escaping a domestic violence situation, exiting correctional services or discharged from hospital with no place to go. Many are recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, suffering from mental illness, going through family breakdown, struggling with unemployment and need respite from their current living arrangements. The potential combinations are endless.

When I joined Jewish House five years ago the organisation’s mission statement for the past 25 years had been to “help those in need” with no particular focus except for what that help entailed. After a short time, I identified the notion of “crises” and people without resources as the main areas where many people fell through the cracks of the existing systems.

From this, I instigated what I like to think of as the “emergency room” for these people.

Once we have helped them with their immediate issues, we try to move them to existing, more long-term management by providing them with a case manager to ensure they are receiving all their entitlements, investigating alternative accommodation options, helping them to get back into the workforce where possible and giving them access to psychological counselling services.

My experiences of the past five years have taught me that homelessness is one of the biggest problems facing the social system. During this time we have identified a demographic upon which we feel it would be beneficial to concentrate. When people who are in crisis have the ability to rehabilitate in time but are not in a space where they can concentrate on finding work, securing accommodation, taking care of children and keeping together all the loose ends that any parent needs to do, we want to accommodate them and work with them longer term.

This is about offering people a healthy future, not band-aiding their present and sending them on their way without real, longer-term solutions. Our wide-ranging programs help springboard people into this potentially better future.

I feel honoured to be in a position where I am able to be of help to so many, varied people and pray that I will always have the strength and ability to continue to be of service.

I pray that you too will open your eyes to the real problem that homelessness is, and rather than shy away from it, reach out in some way to those who need help in the knowledge that the position these people find themselves in is not so far removed from your own – that it is merely a combination of ill-fortune, coincidence and the randomness of life that has led them to the place they currently occupy.

A simple prayer – but a more-than-worthy one.



illustration Kate Campbell

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