Service is at the heart of Vincentian charity. People giving up their time to help our poorest brothers and sisters has carried the spirit of St Vincent across the world over the past 400 years.
The St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia is one of the largest charitable organisations in the world, helping over 2 million people each year. This includes many of the country’s homeless community. In Australia, over 116,000 people on any given night are living without or in inadequate accommodation – and this is sadly growing.
In Australia, the charity has more than 60,000 members and volunteers, who work hard to assist people in need and combat social injustice across Australia.
Tom Fisher was one of those people – living in Perth, Australia, he volunteered with the regional Society of St Vincent de Paul for over 50 years, including as State President. He and his wife Shirley gave thousands of hours over the decades, transforming countless lives through their selflessness and dedication.
Only weeks after leaving the HMAS Sydney, Tom lost all his mates after it was sunk and lost in 1941 – one of Australia’s greatest naval tragedies. It was only recovered in 2008 after renewed efforts to bring closure to the mystery.
Tom made a promise that if he survived the war he would dedicate the rest of his life in the service of others and that is exactly what he did. Whether as a member, Conference President, Regional President, State President, or Society archivist and historian, Tom Fisher never stopped giving.
In 2016 St Vincent de Paul opened a new service call Tom Fisher House which provides accommodation to street homeless people for up to 7 nights – meeting basic needs such as a hot shower, food, clothes, and laundry.
Tom Fisher House also provides the support of specially-trained staff, who develop a plan with residents so they can move out of homelessness for good. This includes referring to other support networks – such as medical services or drug rehabilitation.
Another vital principle of our Vincentian charism is displayed at Tom Fisher House: having no barriers to entry. The House operates a ‘low threshold’ approach – this means reducing restrictions on who can enter the project. Homeless people with drug issues, for example, are welcomed.
As St Vincent said: ‘You must see God in the faces of the poor.’ Tom Fisher House makes sure even those with the most complex challenges are given the opportunity to transform their lives. At any time, 12 men, women or couples are housed – off the street, in safety and being supported by the Saint Vincent de Paul Society in Western Australia.
A fitting tribute to the values of service embodied by Tom Fisher himself, who sadly passed away a few months before the official opening in 2006 but his values live on throughout us all to support people less fortunate with love, respect, and hope and shape a more just and compassionate society.