Engagement Hubs an Important Tool to Break the Homelessness Cycle
6 August 2018 at 4:54 pm
Engagement hubs (once known as drop-in centres) have been recognised by experts as an important tool to break the cycle of long-term homelessness. To mark Homelessness Week, Sacred Heart Central manager Chris Middendorp discusses how these hubs can benefit those experiencing homelessness.
In January this year, the Victorian government announced a new Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Action Plan that aimed to break the cycle of long-term homelessness with an additional $45 million towards early intervention initiatives and increased support services for people experiencing homelessness.
While the action plan provides a much needed long-term strategy to address rough sleeping, the other significance of the plan is that it acknowledged the important role of drop-in centres, such as Sacred Heart Mission’s engagement hubs, as alternative and complementary points of entry to services.
This recognition that a welcome, relationship-building approach is the cornerstone of work with excluded communities, is further supported by a University of Melbourne study in October 2016 which showed engagement hubs play a critical role in breaking the cycle of homelessness.
The research found these “one-stop shops” offered far more than a feed, helping the most marginalised people in our society through social inclusion, better physical and mental wellbeing, housing, and life skills development.
The study, the first of its kind at the time, found that access to nutritious meals, essential services and a safe place offering belonging, as well as unconditional acceptance, prevented adverse outcomes for clients with complex needs and disadvantages.
Our meals are a starting point for engagement, and there is a strong integration between our services and programs, which enables us to meet the full range of our clients’ needs. Our engagement hub at 87 Grey Street serves about 350 meals a day to people experiencing homelessness and social disadvantage.
As a manager of this open-access service, I see first-hand the remarkable outcomes we achieve as a result of our staff and the engagement hub model in which they work. We reach out to offer support to everyone who attends. In some cases, this consists of advice and advocacy. In other cases, it might involve providing people with case management – assisting them with a range of issues, from medication, to crisis accommodation and legal representation.
Many of the people who come to us struggle to access conventional “shopfront” services and are often wary because of past negative experiences. As a result, they can find making appointments challenging and have difficulty remembering to attend them.
About 20 per cent of the people who come to us are sleeping rough. They often have a range of complex issues – untreated mental illness, chronic ill health, histories of trauma and abuse, unemployment and problematic drug use. They may have difficulties with emotional regulation as a result of their trauma.
This means they experience feelings of chronic emptiness and abandonment, and frequently feel angry. Trauma rewires the brain and leaves people with constant anxiety and with difficulties trusting others.
Our engagement hub model allows our staff to gradually establish trust with people over time and work in an informal manner that is less threatening, builds connection, and supports recovery.
People come to us in large numbers because we provide an informal place where they feel safe and have a sense of belonging. They can meet others, have a shower, use the phone and get advice. Workers keep track of accommodation waiting lists and locate people in our engagement hub when vacancies arise.
Ending homelessness is a lot more than providing a roof over someone’s head. It’s about creating a sense of welcome, building trust, and sticking with people along the way, to not only access housing but to develop the skills to maintain their homes and feel socially included.
An engagement hub can create a unique environment where people can take action and make important and lasting changes in their lives.
About the Author: Chris Middendorp is the manager at Sacred Heart Central.