A Living Room for Melbourne’s Homeless
16 June 2016 at 10:13 am
Melbourne’s growing number of homeless are set to get their own “Living Room” with the relaunch of a state-of-the-art facility in the city’s iconic Hosier Lane following a $500,000 facelift.
The Living Room is a primary health service that provides free health care and support to improve the physical, mental and social wellbeing of the city’s homeless or those at risk of homelessness.
Youth Projects will launch the centre on Thursday with Victorian Minister for Housing Martin Foley.
Youth Projects’ chair Melanie Raymond told Pro Bono Australia News the Living Room would provide facilities and services that Melbourne’s growing homeless population have said make the most difference to them – from a simple shower to secure storage for their belongings, as well as vital physical and mental health care.
“Melbourne’s homeless are missing out on everyday life experiences and amenities that we all take for granted,” Raymond said.
“The relaunch of Youth Projects Living Room will give the homeless access to healthy food, showers, laundry services, GPs and nurses, podiatrists and mental health services, and a new life skills centre to boost the transition from homelessness into housing.
“There is no other charity that provides all these services under the one roof and a space where the homeless are welcome to spend some time just relaxing in a supportive and friendly environment.
“The unique point of difference is that we operate a wrap around service with multiple and connected initiatives for all of the barriers people are facing. It is a place where it is welcoming and non judgemental and very flexible access. We don’t have an age limit, we don’t have geographical or other criteria, you can simply walk through the door and get help. We don’t demand ID before anything can happen.
“We really focus on soft engagement allowing people who have been traumatised and are distrustful of the service system to come in and get to know us and build their trust and confidence with us first.”
Raymond said their clients had “responded well” to the change in facility.
“Our clients have said amazing things,” she said.
“Some of the longer term clients had seen how crowded the space had become, and we didn’t want to have to start locking the doors and controlling access. The look and feel is more of a high end apartment rather than a homeless centre. I don’t think any other homeless centre looks the way we look now, it really is world class.”
The redeveloped Living Room features a training kitchen for clients to learn to prepare healthy food, free medical services including regular GPs, podiatrists, a midwife and night nurses, new bathroom and laundry facilities for regular showers and clean clothes, access to computers, lockers for the homeless to store their belongings and safe living spaces for art therapy, relaxing and talking and employment and training pathways.
Raymond said the previous facility, which had been operating for 15 years, had become run-down and lacked the space and facilities to accommodate the growing number of people who need help.
“[We] struggled to provide this care with limited resources and run-down facilities,” she said.
“We had to close for 10 weeks for the duration, but what we did was operate, almost the same service from our Hosier Lane garage and in the laneway because it just wasn’t possible for us to close when so many people come to us everyday looking for help.
“It is amazing our staff managed to deliver pretty much the same service for 10 weeks with two thirds of the business closed.
“It [the new facility] gives us the time and space to really work on long term solutions while also dealing with people’s everyday needs. Our numbers have increased from about 6,500 two years ago, to upwards of 9,000 and we would expect to deliver over 10,000 episodes of care in the coming 12 months on current demand.
“That means we needed extra shower and laundry facilities, to be able to provide more food. The hunger among people who are sleeping rough is genuine, and we have been really concerned about the state of their nutrition and health, so the new kitchen facilities couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Raymond said the problem was getting “dramatically worse”.
“There is no question about it. From the national figures, the state figures and the local figures we have got a tsunami coming around homelessness, unless we deal with affordable housing and some job opportunities particularly for young people.
“We know that 58 per cent of young people are living in rental stress, on low incomes, trying to compete in a very hostile and competitive job market is putting them highly at risk of homelessness and many are really teetering on the verge of homelessness. A lot of the young clients we see in the northern suburbs are well on their way, experiencing a secondary and tertiary homelessness. What we want to do is stop the slide and provide them with a real opportunity to turn their lives around.”
Youth Projects’ client PJ Stretton, who has been sleeping rough in the city, said the Living Room is “a welcome sanctuary”, especially with the onset of winter, and would help people like him rebuild their lives in a safe and welcoming environment.
“It’s our living room, where we can still do everyday things but also get help with more difficult problems like jobs, housing and mental health,” Stretton said.
Raymond said the redevelopment would not have been possible without the “overwhelming generosity of project sponsors”, who donated time and resources.
Major sponsors include Hickory Constructions, who implemented the $500,000 redevelopment, Elenberg Fraser who created the design and white goods retailer The Good Guys who donated more than $50,000 worth of appliances, including washing machines, dryers, refrigerators, ovens, cooktops, televisions, tablets and computers.
Raymond said charities need to look to the corporate community for funding.
“We know that there is not a lot of money for capital works around in the sector,” Raymond said.
“[There are] very few funding opportunities, so it was for the board to use its network in the corporate community and bring down some people who could bring the resources in, such as the directors of the Hickory Group and The Good Guys. To have the board have those connections and [be] prepared to use them is really important in the operating environment we have today.
“I do think charities need to be looking at diversifying their funding base because there is less public money around through the government, and finding other sources of support to plug those holes or indeed deliver up new innovative approaches is critical, we can’t expect it to be the government funding [that] evolves, I think there should be and I think the government has a responsibility to intervene in poverty, that often its own policies create, but right here, right now all of us need to be looking for whatever sources we can find to keep our doors open and meet the demand that we’re facing.”
Raymond said the plan for the future was to demonstrate “the innovation in solutions that are lifelong and sustainable”.
“To do that we need to start extending our operating hours, the demand on all of us is high and homelessness is not nine to five, we really need to find the funding to open and staff the place properly for longer hours, weekend and public holidays because people are still in need and are often left entirely alone in crisis, waiting for the service sector to reopen on Monday morning.”