This interview with Liz Giles is part of an oral history project celebrating 25 years of the Homeless Persons Information Centre [HPIC]. The project was conducted in 2009. HPIC was a telephone referral service operated by the City of Sydney for people experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness. Liz was manager of the Homelessness Unit at the City of Sydney, within which HPIC sat. In the excerpt below Liz talks about the character traits of the staff who answered the always busy phones in HPIC.
You have to be thick-skinned, I think you have to be patient, you have to manage stress. Those phones in there at times are relentless; you put one call down and you have to pick up another one; it might go on like that for hours with five people sitting on the queue at any one time. You have to face the fact that frequently you have to say, “No, I can’t help you”. You have to be tenacious, you have to be a good advocate but a strategic advocate and manage that balance of relationships but also seeking the best outcome for someone. You have to be able to hear one story of hardship and trauma and all the rest of it after another, and still come back to work the next day, or just pick up the next phone, dealing with anything from people who are expressing suicidal thoughts to people just getting knocked back, from services that they really need, for really silly reasons. Of course they [HPIC staff] have all the people that they do help and I think that’s where you find the balance. I think it takes a very special person to work in HPIC. And that we have staff in there who have such longevity in the service says great things not only about the leadership in that room – Maurice [Parraguez] and Kaylean [Smith] are just fantastic human beings – but the team itself, the comradeship, the way that they look after each other and the fact that there’s not a soul in there who doesn’t have a genuine compassion, love of the work, and a real desire to get outcomes.