Everyone who sits at the table of the Soul Cafe Newcastle can always count on being served with something even more nourishing than the mouth-watering meals coming from the kitchen – a side dish of kindness, care and hope.
Welcoming society’s most vulnerable members, this warm, inviting dining room in the heart of Newcastle is a drawcard for those seeking tenderness and respite from the wearying demands of homelessness, addiction and other problems grinding them down, leaving them feeling helpless and alone.
CEO Rick Prosser says Soul Cafe meets the immediate needs of their guests through food. Last year they served more than 33,000 meals and food care packs, but serving a meal is just the starting point.
‘Our guests come to us because they are hungry,’ Rick says. ‘Most of them have other problems, but in the immediate future, they need food in their belly and we provide that. But food is really just the medium – it provides the platform of conversation and builds a bridge of trust.
‘The dining table is traditionally a place where people come together to share their stories and engage. It’s our goal to provide a sense of family at Soul Cafe so people can feel comfortable in opening up. We can then start a conversation with them and begin to help them beyond a meal.’
Soul Cafe provides a ‘one-stop shop’ or, as Rick describes it, a ‘convergence of services’ for those in need. These services include recovery programs, medical clinics and outreach services like Centrelink, disability services, legal services and domestic violence services.
‘We can tell people who can help them and where they need to go to get help, but some people don’t have the capacity to make that happen for themselves, which is why being a ‘one-stop shop’ enables us to make traction and a real difference for those who need it.’
Rick says one of the most vital roles Soul Cafe offers is the services of their mental health clinician, a role funded by Port Waratah.
‘About four years ago, we realised we needed some specialist help on our team at Soul Cafe and that’s where our Newcastle mental health clinician comes in,’ Rick says. ‘This role would not exist without Port Waratah.
‘We provide our mental health clinic 25 hours a week, 20 hours of which is funded by Port Waratah. The expertise of the clinician is absolutely invaluable because it gives us the ability to provide mental health support in a non-threatening, friendly environment. Through conversation, we can discern our guest’s stories and offer sustainable help. To have that specialist care on hand has literally saved lives.’
Soul Cafe serves free meals to Newcastle’s homeless, disadvantaged and vulnerable people. A mental health clinician is also on hand to provide mental health support in a non-threatening, friendly environment.