SERVICE QUALITY & IMPACT

HOMELESSNESS AND HOUSING

We don’t look at houses as properties or investments. We see them as homes – safe havens where people can learn, work, grow, rest and play. We believe every single one of us has the right to a home.

Sadly, more than 37,000 people are homeless in NSW. One in three people experiencing homelessness across Australia lives here in our state. They are too often overlooked because homelessness doesn’t appear the way many people expect it to; in reality, thousands of people experiencing homelessness are sleeping in their cars, on couches, in hostels or crammed households where they can’t live safely and healthily.

Our Homelessness and Housing team works to give people access to long-term, safe, and stable accommodation that meets their individual needs. This year’s introduction of a new organisational structure led to the integration of homelessness services across NSW into the one portfolio, enabling our staff to work more cohesively and effectively together. They were able to assist more than 6,700 people over the course of the financial year.

We have prioritised our delivery of the NSW Government’s Social and Affordable Housing Fund (SAHF). This program is the embodiment of the housing-first model of community development, providing safe and permanent housing as a priority for people at risk of homelessness.

After launching the first of our SAHF properties last year, during the 2019/20 financial year we had a total of 382 units built, with more than 450 tenants moved in. The developments are spread across NSW in Albury, Burraneer, Campbelltown, Dubbo, Jordan Springs, Lilyfield, Maitland, Merrylands, Penrith and South Albury.

Tenants are paired with a tailored support coordinator who helps them achieve financial independence along with other personal goals. Given the on-hand support that is inherent to the SAHF program, the onset of COVID-19 presented many challenges this year. Our staff have continued to check in with tenants over the phone and through online tools such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams, though unfortunately several face-to-face community events and activities had to be cancelled.

THE DIFFERENCE ONE PERSON CAN MAKE

“WITHOUT MARGARET AND VINNIES, I WOULDN’T HAVE SURVIVED – IT’S THAT SIMPLE AND I AM FOREVER GRATEFUL FOR THEIR WONDERFUL WORK.” – RUSSELL

Russell never expected to fall into homelessness.

Having worked his entire adult life only to become unemployed in his late 50s, the once-fiercely independent man soon found himself with no savings and living day-to-day in fear for his safety and health.

Trapped in a vicious cycle of seeking assistance from Centrelink and applying for government housing, the toll of depression and severe anxiety saw Russell’s mental wellbeing decline rapidly.

“I didn’t want to know ‘me’ and what I had become,” Russell said. “I stopped seeing friends, so they didn’t feel like they had to help me out or have to see me as a failure.”

The support of the Society proved to be a turning point. Russell met one of our amazing volunteer members, Margaret, at our Northern Beaches Community Support Centre. She assisted Russell with food, but he found the greatest nourishment in being seen after spending months marginalised by society.

“She listened to my situation with interest and empathy. I had met someone who really did care and wanted to help me out of my dark situation,” he said.

Continuing to visit the Brookvale office for assistance, a fateful call from Margaret led to a breakthrough Russell feared would never come.

“I needed a place to live and Margaret understood my immediate need. As an older single male, I wasn’t a first choice for tenancy. She went into bat for my character and ability to be a good tenant. No one else anywhere was going to do that!”

Russell moved into a social housing unit operated by the Society, bringing along his meagre belongings – nothing more than some clothes. Margaret and her husband, Tom, stepped up once again with a bed, fridge, and furniture to turn the unit into a home.

Having gone through the hardest period of his life, Russell credits the support of the Society for bringing him back from the brink.

“Without Margaret and Vinnies, I wouldn’t have survived – it’s that simple and I am forever grateful for their wonderful work.”

END STREET SLEEPING COLLABORATION

As part of our mission to reduce homelessness, we are signatories to the Institute of Global Homelessness’ joint initiative with the NSW Government, City of Sydney and other service providers to end street homelessness. The End Street Sleeping Collaboration aims to halve homelessness across NSW by 2025 and eliminate it completely by 2030.

Since joining the initiative in February 2019, we have contributed financially and participated in a number of collaboration leadership groups and projects, contributing front-line resources, specialist knowledge and expertise.

DOMESTIC AND FAMILY VIOLENCE SERVICES

The Society provides support for women and children dealing with domestic violence, through specialised services across NSW as well as volunteer assistance through our local conferences. We aim to provide ongoing support and friendship at what can be an extremely vulnerable time for women and children, helping them access help at home as well as find alternative accommodation when they wish to leave. This year, we helped 2,400 women and children experiencing abuse.

The 2019/20 financial year has seen our domestic violence response continue to move from a model that was based around physical buildings and refuges, to an outreach model. This means we venture out to deliver support wherever the individual or family are located – whether that be their home, a hotel or motel, or another safe place. This flexible approach means they do not need to make the often-difficult journey to a physical refuge to receive
support and safety.

Funded through the NSW Department of Communities & Justice, the Domestic Violence Response Enhancement program ensures help is available after-hours and on weekends. We can provide anything from immediate needs such as food, baby supplies, clothing, and toiletries, to assistance in travelling to a safe location. We can also organise hotel or refuge accommodation and provide casework support to build a safety plan for people experiencing domestic abuse.

TAKE A LOOK

At how one of our domestic violence services, the Our Lady of the Way refuge, continued to operate during the coronavirus pandemic.

READ MORE

ACCOMMODATION SERVICES

We operate more than 25 crisis and transitional accommodation services across NSW to meet the diverse needs of single men and women, families, older women, and young people. As well as those staying on-site, these services provide outreach support to those in the wider community who are at risk of homelessness.

It has been a turbulent year for many of our accommodation centres, particularly those in the path of the Black Summer bushfires. As the fires caused many people to be displaced, our staff sprang into action – finding people accommodation, taking calls from people and agencies looking for support, making late-night deliveries of additional blankets and supplies to emergency evacuation centres, and providing thousands of dollars’ worth of medical and other aid for Rural Fire Service volunteers.

Following the bushfire season, the COVID-19 pandemic threw our services into a new challenge. While our crisis accommodation facilities remained operational, we needed to implement reduced capacity in some cases to ensure adequate physical distancing. Case management and support services were provided through video and mobile services; supplies and information were dropped off at residents’ doors.

One of the locations most impacted by coronavirus was the Matthew Talbot Hostel, our largest crisis accommodation centre located in Woolloomooloo. For more than 80 years, this service has provided a bed, hot meals, showers, toiletries, clothing, and support for men doing it tough on the streets of inner Sydney. Throughout the pandemic, the hostel has remained open, providing meals and support for those most in need. Yet due to its large resident capacity and the shared nature of the accommodation – with communal bathrooms and toilets – we realised that the Matthew Talbot Hostel could not meet the COVID-safe requirements of NSW Health while accommodating its usual number of guests.

As a result, most of our residents were moved to the Adina Hotel, which provided a safe and comfortable alternative to the Matthew Talbot Hostel. This was made possible through funding from the Department of Communities & Justice and kind support from the hotel management. Our caseworkers and healthcare staff continued to provide support for residents housed at the Adina Hotel, and we are working with those in this temporary accommodation to plan safe, permanent housing for the future.

FROM THE STREET TO A HOTEL SUITE

Craig, a proud Warriyangga Aboriginal man, had secure work in the racing industry prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. However, the fallout of the global health crisis saw him lose his job and soon find himself without a place to call home.

Craig sought refuge at the Society’s Matthew Talbot Hostel after sleeping rough for six weeks. He worried what might happen if the virus entered the facility, but he was put at ease when we quickly implemented strict social distancing. Soon after that, Craig was one of the residents moved to a nearby hotel.

“My fear with COVID was either being isolated or kicked out,” Craig explained in an interview with NITV News.

“When they made this available to us with the conditions we’ve got here, the hope came back. We got access to a psychiatrist, there’s a General Practitioner and a chemist down the road, and they keep all your medication if you’re on meds and stuff like that.”

Craig is one of more than 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people supported by our Homelessness and Housing services this financial year.