Slumped against walls, struggling to walk and barely conscious: The shocking scenes volunteers witness as they do their best to help the casualties of Sydney's weekend drinking culture
- Daily Mail Australia hit the streets on Saturday night with Take Kare
- Take Kare volunteers help people who are alcohol- or drug-affected
- Journalist Louise Cheer helped one drunk man throw up after a night-out
- But others have seen much worse on their night shifts in Sydney's CBD
By LOUISE CHEER FOR DAILY MAIL AUSTRALIA
PUBLISHED: 13:57 EST, 10 October 2015
It is 2am on Sunday morning and I am holding up a vomit bag to a drunk young man's mouth as he throws up after a wild night-out.
When we found the man, who looked like he was in his late teens or early 20s, he was barely able to string a sentence together.
He was alone and slumped against a wall in an alcove on Martin Place, in Sydney's CBD, barely holding onto his phone as it lay in his half-clenched hand.
Daily Mail Australia journalist Louise Cheer spent a night out with the Take Kare ambassadors who help alcohol- or drug-affected people on a night-out (above is an earlier photograph from a night-out)
His head was bowed and his eyes were closed, giving us the impression he had passed out.
Fortunately, we were able to wake him but he could not tell us much before he started to vomit and one of the girls I was with - Laura Tyne with lightning-fast reflexes - had a bag under his mouth just in time.
As she struggled to put on her disposable rubber gloves, I took over as he brought up bile intermittently. This continued for about 10 minutes.
Laura, a seasoned expert, had foreseen this vomiting incident since we started asking him: 'how's your night been?', 'where are your friends?' and 'how are you getting home?'
These may seem like bizarre questions to ask a complete stranger but let me put it into context for you.
While you and I normally go out on Friday or Saturday (or what I really do: snuggle up in bed watching Netflix), about 20 Take Kare ambassadors - a majority of them volunteers - give up their evenings and early mornings to make sure anyone who is alcohol- or drug-affected gets home safely.
The dedication of the volunteers, including one woman who drives more than an hour from Gosford just to help out, is extraordinary as they spend six-hour shifts patrolling the streets for any signs of trouble that could end in tragedy.
In case you do not know, the Take Kare Safe Space is an initiative between the Thomas Kelly Foundation and the Salvation Army that provides assistance to those who have had one too many drinks or are under the influence of other substances.
Every Friday and Saturday night - armed with a backpack full of bottles of water, lollipops, vomit bags, disposable rubber gloves and thongs for sore feet - volunteers watch over party-goers in the CBD, including Kings Cross.
Some of the volunteers stay at a Safe Space tent to assist anyone who comes past at Sydney Town Hall or Kings Cross.
TAKE KARE SAFE SPACE: BY THE NUMBERS
- Take Kare ambassadors have helped more than 5,000 people since it started in December last year
- The people they help are predominantly between the ages of 18 and 25 (70 per cent), with two in five being women
- Almost a third of the situations they have prevented could have led to traffic injuries
- Another third could have escalated into a violent attack
- A quarter of people helped by Take Kare ambassadors were vulnerable to sexual assault
Their tasks for the night could be as simple as handing over a bottle of water or as critical as calling an ambulance for someone who is in a life-threatening condition - which Salvation Army's Street Teams coordinator Nate Brown says happens about once a weekend.
He has been with the program since it started up 10 months ago and he has seen the worst that can happen on the streets.
The father-of-three, who is one of four paid employees (Laura is another), told me about a particular incident he came across one night - a case of self-harm, which proves that Take Kare ambassadors can save people's lives.
'We were out one night and we were walking past World Square [on George Street] there was a guy up in the stairwell who was pretty upset,' Nate recalled.
'He was kind hunched over a little bit and we went up and said "G'day, what's going on?", and he was really upset, teary.
'He was self-harming. He had a broken bottle and he was cutting his wrists, pretty deeply, and he was a real mess.
'We tried to chat to him but he was really upset and agitated so we called an ambulance for him.'
Nate also tells me of two other girls he and his volunteers saved from serious harm - a girl from Lithgow they found sitting in her own vomit on the street by herself and another who had slipped over on the wet pavement on a rainy night and cracked her head open.
'They're the kind of moments that make you realise why we do what we do. Every weekend I can guarantee those stories happen, where you go "This is exactly why we run this program",' he said.
One Take Kare volunteer I was grouped with on that Saturday night/Sunday morning was Meggie Barr who has a very personal reason to volunteer for Take Kare Safe Space.
Meggie is the cousin of Thomas Kelly and has volunteered three times with the group since it started.
Thomas Kelly died two days after he was punched once in the back of the head in Kings Cross back in 2012.
Following his son's death, Meggie's uncle Ralph started up a foundation to curb alcohol-fuelled violence on the streets and make sure no other family had to go through what his did.
On one of the nights Meggie went out with the team, she and Laura found a bloodied man lying a gutter about 3.45am on August 2. Laura started performing CPR on him and he stopped breathing twice.
Their actions on that night save the man's life but it was not this incident that Meggie recalled when she was asked about an experience that had stayed with her. 'I was walking with a group through Martin Place and a bouncer at one of the bars waved us over and a guy had basically tripped down the stairs at [the] station and smashed his head,' she said. 'He was bleeding and he was really drunk.
'Obviously the security guards aren't going to stand with him because that's not their job. So we stood and waited with this guy and made sure that he kept chatting. 'Basically we waited for the ambulance to come, which took 20 minutes or half an hour.
'That was one situation of so many where someone is just alone and their friends have just kept partying. That's why it’s so important they have someone there looking out for them and making sure they're okay and they get home safely.'
Meggie said every time she volunteered she remembered why she was there. 'We don't want any family to get that phone call or any family to go through that [what we went through with Thomas's death],' she said.
'Maybe that would not have happened to Thomas if this program was around then. 'It definitely does cross my mind thinking that we've helped that person or that situation was diffused or we've de-escalated this violent situation and that's stopped someone from ending their young life as well.
'Walking around with my cousin's initial [TK] on a yellow jacket - that's pretty amazing. 'Thomas is always in the back of my mind whenever I go out and volunteer. 'I wear his initials on my yellow fluro jacket... with pride and determination to ensure that no other family goes through the loss like that endured by my family when my cousin was robbed of his life.'