PORTRAIT. Former voluntary homeless man, network man to get people off the streets, who is the Toulousain Andrew Nguyen?
Coordinator of the wandering center of Secours Catholique, Andrew Nguyen gives his life to help others. Volunteer 80 hours a week in Toulouse, he organizes the distribution of food aid, marauding to meet the homeless. Interlocutor of the mayor, the prefect, devout Catholic, he carries the construction of a church. He has the ear of the big local bosses, who hire those he takes out of the street.
Glasses raised on the forehead, scarf, thin beard and shaved head. “It never changes,” smiles the 65-year-old. Yes, 65 years old. We would give him ten less. The wrinkles are there, however, on this chiseled and matte skin. But with his white sneakers with bouncing soles, the man seems to fly when he moves. “It’s a UFO. He’s everywhere, he never stops,” says Robert, a volunteer from Secours Catholique. Andrew Nguyen is also a volunteer.
A volunteer “who is always there”
“Yes, it surprises many,” he said with a smile. So ubiquitous that all the employee believer. Coordinator of the wandering center of Secours Catholique in Toulouse since 2015, Andrew does not count his hours.
“I am present all year round” His only salary is his retirement pension. A former intensive care and emergency nurse, he retired at 55. But realizes that this “little death” will not suit him. “I became unlivable”. A devout Catholic, he felt that he could only be happy by helping people on the street. It therefore slips into their baskets for 8 months.
He stays in contact with his wife and children, but sleeps on a porch and lives on food aid
“I took my backpack, and I left with nothing, in the streets of Toulouse. I wanted to understand the homeless, to become one of them to better help them”. He remains in contact with his wife and two children, but sleeps under a porch, feeds with food aid, experiences thefts, the cold. In the Raisin district, he meets volunteers from Secours Catholique. And become one of them.
Andrew Nguyen in a few dates
1957: Birth in Vietnam, of an American mother and a Vietnamese father.
1975: Arrival in France after the fall of Saigon. father son, Nguyen Thê Anh, is a leading figure in the contemporary history of the Indochinese peninsula, director of research at the CNRS and professor at Harvard.
2014: Spends 8 months as a “voluntary homeless person” in the streets of Toulouse, then commits to volunteering with Secours Catholique.
2015: Volunteer coordinator of the wandering center at Secours Catholique.
“Hi Andrew, how are you? “On this December 31, the coordinator participates in a marauding and distributes gifts to the homeless in the streets of Toulouse. The one who comes from the apostrophe is an old comrade from the street. “I have been on a temporary basis for two years, it feels good to work,” he whispers to Andrew. “That’s what gives me chills, this kind of meeting, reacts the volunteer. My experience in the street, it helps me to detect in their eyes the desire to get out of it”.
“My experience in the street helps me to detect their desire to get out of it”
In the street, everyone recognizes him. At the end of the marauding, Andrew returns to the Ostalada, the association’s premises, place Arnaud-Bernard. In this 350 m² space, Secours Catholique welcomes “unconditionally” all those who need it. They can take a shower, wash their clothes, dry them, have a meal, a breakfast.
“Andrew puts you at ease right away. He does not judge. He says that we are ashamed, that we don’t dare ask for help”, testifies Alex, a former street worker, who has become a volunteer. “Here, there is no registration. On the other hand, I always suggest to those I help to become volunteers, for six to eight months of their lives. It gives them self-confidence, they feel useful”.
Even cancer, which picked it up five years ago, had to admit defeat
Last Thursday, a couple arrived from Savoie in a cart without a license. They participated in a cooking workshop, preparing oriental chicken for thirty. “Our social service took care of them, on aid to put some gasoline in their car. For the moment they still live in it, but they have found their smiles again. They know that we are going to help them”.
Andrew does not stop. Even cancer, which picked it up five years ago, had to admit defeat. Engaged in a corporate foundation, he struggles to relieve funds for an association helping the disabled. He has the ear of the big regional bosses. “The goal is that they hire old people from the streets”. And it works.
Catholic Relief Services in Toulouse
The Toulouse branch of Secours Catholique has two day centres: the Ostalada, place Arnaud-Bernard, and the Casela, reception reserved for women, avenue du Maréchal Leclerc.
The homeless or people in precariousness are taken care of there unconditionally. A distribution point is also located in the Raisin district. The missions bring together around 300 volunteers from all walks of life. The association employs ten employees, who deal in particular with integration.
Partnerships with companies and schools are forged for the hiring of people in precariousness, or operations such as the shoebox operation. This allowed the distribution of more than 3000 gifts to the homeless for the end of year celebrations.
The Food Bank, located in the Fondeyre district, provides several tons of food to Secours Catholique each week.