Homeless man’s friendship with Sydney CEO prompts lifelong advocacy work

When Debbie Organ saw an advertisement for a missing dog in Sydney’s CBD appear on her phone, she recognised it straight away.

It belonged to a homeless man she had seen countless times outside Myer in Pitt Street.

Being an animal lover, she used her own social network to track down the dog and return it to its owner, John.

“As I left, he stood up and gave me his milk crate and asked if I would come back and talk to him next week.

“I took every Friday off for the next four or five years and sat on the streets and learnt about the homeless.”

Friendship drives advocacy
Ms Organ is now the chief executive officer of the Oak Flats Bowling and Recreation Club and the Illawarra Yacht Club.

She works during the week in the Illawarra region, then goes back to Sydney every weekend to visit John, who now lives in a nursing home.

She has today recruited her directors and staff from both clubs to participate in a sleep out to specifically raise money for Illawarra homeless and domestic violence initiatives.

“I’ve done the [Vinnies] CEO Sleepout in Wollongong, but this year we’re all going to sleep out,” Ms Organ said.

“We’ve raised over $5,000 in a raffle and we’re going to make it an annual event at our club.

Ms Organ said while she supports the Vinnies CEO Sleepout, which will happen on Thursday night, she wanted to raise money that she could spend herself on local causes.

“I want to know where the money is going exactly, so every dollar we raise will go to the local community and we will account for every cent,” she said.

Dogs a barrier to accommodation
Ms Organ said John’s dog, Carrie, was like a member of his family.

Early in the friendship when she was trying to find crisis accommodation for John, however, none of the options were pet-friendly.

When John required life-saving surgery after being assaulted on the street, Ms Organ became his legal guardian and signed off on the operation.

When he came out of hospital, she was able to get him into a nursing home in Sydney.

John and his dog have became part of her family, gathering together at Christmas and playing Keno at the local club.

“I take Carrie to visit him and we go out every Saturday for lunch,” Ms Organ said.

“He’s looking healthy and fit.”