The Muslim group helping Sydney's homeless

The Christmas holidays remain one of the busiest times for charity groups, but among those visiting areas frequented by Sydney's homeless is a team with a difference.

On a Saturday night a team of volunteers from the Sydney suburb of Granville load up their van.
Alongside shoes, blankets, and meals prepared by their families and local restaurants, Bilal Islam sorts through a pile of handbags filled with sanitary products and other items.
"We got some books, some makeup," he explains, holding them up as he goes. "Just everyday things that we take for granted."
Based at Masjid Al Noor mosque in South Granville, Homeless Run began life as a youth program aimed at helping the needy. In the three years since it continues to be organised by a growing list of volunteers and operates entirely on community funding.
Following evening prayers a crew of about 10 people travel 45 minutes to one of the biggest homeless hotspots in Sydney's CBD. Moments after setting up at Belmore Park near Central Station, affectionately known as 'the White Coats, they're swamped with visitors.
But not everyone was so welcoming in the beginning.
"We had people throw glass at us, throw food at us, not accept our food," Bilal Islam recalled. "But as the days and the months go on, they knew who we are. They knew it's the same faces every single day. 
"If you're gonna sit behind the TV and listen to what the media have to say about Islam, you're never going to understand. Sit back, talk to us, have a laugh."

Moving on in 2016

While critics have accused Homeless Run of forming for publicity purposes, the group insists their primary focus is to help people. But in the process they have offered anyone with reservations about Islam more perspective.
Before being housed recently Brendan had a long stint in Belmore Park, where he became heavily reliant on the White Coats for help.
"When they first came here I was naturally very standoffish and I was surprised," he said. "But when you actually get an opportunity to interact with them, they're a beautiful, soft-natured people," he said.
Another man, Terry has been sporadically living on the streets for about 15 years. He says the food everyone receives from Homeless Run is the best they'll get all week.
"When that last thing happened in Paris these poor guys copped hell," he said. "It's not their fault. They're just like you and I. Actually, they're better than you and I because they get off their arse and come out and do something."
Melissa - another regular client of the White Coats - sums them up as "our survival".
"Not only because they give us a good feed, but they care about us, and everyone respects them highly," she said.

The five pillars of Islam

Among tonight's volunteers is Nathan Keys, a plumber who's also brought along his two young sons to help.
"In Islam, we're taught to look at someone that's less fortunate than us so we're content with what we have," he said. "(It's about) teaching them to give and not always want."
On any given night up to 150 people sleep rough in and around Central Station. Like Homeless Run, charity group Missionbeat also visits the area giving out supplies - and offering transport - for the homeless. But ultimately, it still isn't enough.
"The services are ramping up, but the demand keeps going up," said Missionbeat spokesman Trevor Romer. 
"That's in a climate where the state government has been spending money on programs to try and get people housed. 
"We think there needs to be more of an emphasis on a national level about trying to solve homelessness."
Homeless Run is also calling for more detailed housing programs. But until then, Bilal Islam said their work will continue.
"Boys that work every day, 9 to 5, taking time out of their lives to go out and feed the needy, it's not gonna change the world," he said. "But it's gonna put a bit of a smile on their face."
Explore the complex issue of homelessness in Australia
Source: SBS