While Martin Place fell into an uncharacteristic quiet during Sydney’s lockdown, Tuesday nights have provided a cheerful contrast. Week in and week out, people experiencing homelessness know that’s when they can find friendship, a coffee, a bite to eat – and a good read.
The Footpath Library has been providing quality books to people experiencing homelessness since 2003. As well as the outreach service at Martin Place, they deliver books to the Aboriginal Medical Service in Redfern, Northcott Community Centre in Surry Hills, the Johanna O’Dea social housing complex in Camperdown, and more than 100 hostels and shelters.
You may have seen their “little library” boxes popping up on local streets during the pandemic. The Footpath Library also opened a groundbreaking e-library in 2020, giving homelessness services access to 350,000 online titles.
Now the service’s founder and managing director, Sarah Garnett, has been recognised as a nominee in the Westfield Local Hero Awards. If she is successful in winning the $10,000 prize, she plans to purchase 1,000 pairs of reading glasses for people experiencing homelessness.
People without secure housing often read under poor lighting conditions; under streetlights or in hostel dormitories while others sleep. The Footpath Library already gives out roughly 25 pairs of glasses each Tuesday in Martin Place.
“A lot of people don’t realise they have bad eyesight until they try a pair on,” Ms Garnett says.
While the pace of life has slowed for many Sydneysiders under lockdown, The Footpath Library is busier than ever. As an essential service, it has continued to operate, supporting a growing number of readers.
“I’ve noticed the anxiety levels have definitely gone up for many people experiencing homelessness,” Ms Garnett says.
Some of The Footpath Library’s newer readers became stuck in Sydney after interstate borders were shut. Out of a job, out of savings and unable to return home to friends and family, they have found themselves without a stable home in an unfamiliar city.
“Reading is something that’s getting people through this situation,” Ms Garnett says. “It’s helping people feel calm, giving them something to do and a bit of an escape.”
As for herself, Ms Garnett is currently escaping to Tuscany by reading Still Life by Sarah Winman, a fictional tale beginning in World War II.
To vote for Sarah Garnett in the Westfield Local Hero Awards, visit www.westfield.com.au/local-heroes. The Footpath Library gratefully accepts monetary donations – please visit www.footpathlibrary.org.