Frank is a father raising his two children Jack, 10, and Sharon, 7. His partner, Marie, died three years ago. Frank, who is estranged from his family after a dispute stemming from his previous drug habit, has been struggling to cope with the huge responsibility of raising his children.

While staying at the St Vincent de Paul refuge for fathers with children for the past four weeks, he has been receiving help with budget counseling and assistance with paying off his debts.

The children, Jack and Sharon, are attending school and receive help with their homework. Jack likes playing soccer while Sharon, who is withdrawn, is being engaged in activities to build her self-esteem and confidence.

Frank and his children can stay at the refuge for three months and during that time the family will be assisted to find long term accommodation.

Changing face of homelessness

The stereotype of a homeless person being an ageing male with a dependence on alcohol is no longer relevant. Today, homelessness is an issue that also affects young men and women, single mothers, fathers and families.  The St Vincent de Paul Society of NSW/ACT is attempting to address the problem in creative and effective ways.

The very concept of homelessness is a direct contradiction to basic human rights, according to the former Governor General of Australia, Sir William Deane, who recently launched the St Vincent de Paul Society’s Matthew Talbot Homeless Services - a new initiative that aims to further combat the changing and complex social problem of homelessness.  He also has agreed to be its patron.

“The Matthew Talbot Hostel in Sydney is one of the best known homeless facilities, which has been caring for homeless men for nearly 70 years. In this time, the Talbot’s staff and volunteers have learned to build trust with their guests, and to work gradually with them through art and education to provide options and choices for a new, independent future,” Sir William said.

“Sadly, over the years, the Talbot has seen the faces of homeless men become much younger and a growing number of homeless women and families coming to their doors for help.

“The Matthew Talbot Hostel is just one part of the St Vincent de Paul Society’s 37 homeless services, caring for men, women, children and families in regional and metropolitan centres throughout NSW and the ACT.  Unlike the Talbot, these Vinnies services don’t always enjoy a high profile and the benefit of the community support it brings.  Most are in a precarious financial position with significant shortfalls in funding.”

Sir William said that when he was invited to be the Patron of the society’s  new homeless initiative, he didn’t have to look beyond the name, Matthew Talbot Homeless Services.

“I understood immediately how the name and reputation of the Matthew Talbot Hostel in Woolloomooloo could help attract support to address an even greater and more widespread need. Matthew Talbot Homeless Services will enable the St Vincent de Paul Society to make greater use of resources and be more strategic in implementing proven successful approaches to break the cycle of homelessness across its services.

“The very concept of homelessness is a direct contradiction to basic human rights, such as the right to participate in work and the community. The lack of a place to live has a significant impact on a person’s dignity. It most often results in the loss of connection and access to work opportunities and the community.

“Through the launch of Matthew Talbot Homeless Services the St Vincent de Paul Society works to restore these basic human rights and a sense of connection.”

The society says that this year has seen the plight of homeless people’s suffering continue to spiral. The escalating factors include the drought, increasing food prices, interest rate increases, mental health issues, and domestic and family violence. These are coupled with the lack of affordable housing for people on low incomes.

Across New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory, SVdP’s 37 facilities provide 692 beds and 36 outreach programmes – 15 facilities for single men (providing 356 beds); 6 for single women (48 beds); 5 for families (49 beds and cots); 2 for men with children (22 beds and cots); 2 for young people (18 beds); 7 for women with children (199 beds and cots).  Yet, on an average day, 150 people are turned away from homeless services in NSW.

Through Matthew Talbot Homeless Services, the St Vincent de Paul Society offers crisis, medium and long term supported accommodation services.   Some of the society’s homeless services are developing pioneering ways to prevent homelessness:  The society works with families before they are evicted or before they default their mortgage and lose their home. Society staff and volunteers assist with negotiations with the real estate agents, landlords and banks to work out a better arrangement for all.   Many services are developing programmes with their clients, which may include: living skills, education, recreation, personal hygiene, children’s programmes, literacy, budget counseling and anger management.

It is harnessing the power of recreation to break the cycle of homelessness. Learning and recreation programmes re-engage the awareness of the chronically homeless to their potential, which provides them with a sense that they do have choices.   Matthew Talbot Homeless Services runs a range of recreation and learning programmes - art, music, poetry, sport and university-level courses including English, social sciences and humanities - which stem from the Clemente school of thought that advocates learning as the key to enabe homeless people to have choices and achieve independent living.  Creating artworks and engaging in recreation and learning activities can help people in disadvantage challenge their own situation and empower themselves to take control of their lives and bring about positive change. 

For women and children – most of whom are escaping domestic violence – the issue is having somewhere safe to sleep. 

The specialist domestic violence services provide a range of programmes for the women and children they are working with both in a crisis and outreach capacity. Some include: counseling, pampering days, massage, craft, tutoring for children, art therapy, family picnics and mobile play van. The specialist domestic violence services develop their outreach services differently as their risk assessment of families has to be more closely monitored. They are currently developing safe practices for working with families in an outreach capacity.

According to the SVdP Chief Executive Office John Picot, the society is committed to preventing homelessness and assisting people to become empowered to help themselves.  Thus it encourages the people it assists to take control of their lives and aims to provide them with choices, while also providing assistance to guide them along the path to independent living. 

“This is based on a philosophy that all are responsible for their own actions,” he said. 

“However, the St Vincent de Paul Society acknowledges that many homeless women and men have been badly wounded and scarred by suffering abuse as children or young people. This abuse or violation has often occurred in their homes and has left them feeling unsafe, insecure and angry. Some people go on to recover from this abuse while others never recover.

“The challenge that lies ahead for the St Vincent de Paul Society in the face of rising demand and the growing complexity of the problem, is to maintain and increase services which re-engage the awareness of chronically homeless people to their potential, increase confidence and self esteem for people that have lost hope and provide a sense that they do have choices,” Mr Picot said.

A woman with two children arrived at the refuge with the police after an incident of domestic violence. All they had were the clothes they were wearing and a few personal items. The refuge staff was able to assist the family with food, clothing, toiletries and other personal items. It usually takes a few days/nights for the family to sleep easily and feel safe. The workers identified a range of needs where the woman and the children would need support. They worked with them and took them to appointments to the doctor, pediatrician, Centrelink, police and school.

Vinnies Animation Project wins Mercy Foundation award

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 12:   The 2006 Mercy Foundation Award for achievement in social justice has been awarded to the Animation Project, run by the St Vincent de Paul Society, Wollongong Diocese, in NSW.

The award recognises the Animation Project’s commitment to working alongside those experiencing poverty in respectful and non-dominating ways for the purpose of developing a more just world.

The Animation Project, operating in Campbelltown, NSW, is based on a strong belief in the power of ’ordinary’ people to make positive changes in themselves and their communities, when supported, encouraged and trusted. The project’s achievements have fostered community action, brought significant changes to the lives of many individuals and begun to change pre-existing perceptions about the residents in the suburbs of Campbelltown.

Established in 1997, the Animation Project fosters principles of self-determination, ‘people power’, inclusion, participation, solidarity, critical thinking and local decision making.

By providing residents with the opportunity for their voices to be heard at conferences, in media and through self-advocacy and lobbying, the Animation Project enables residents to directly attempt to influence and change public policy and unjust structures and to participate in democratic processes.

Some of the project's achievements have included:

· Changing policies and government accountability structures for the large scale redevelopment of the public housing estate of Minto

· Identifying, advocating for and gaining strategic paid opportunities to teach university and TAFE students and current community workers in order to create a more grass roots focus in the human services sector

· Building networks and connections of public housing tenants across Sydney and regions.  In the last 18 three such gatherings of tenants have been facilitated with 100 - 300 people in attendance.

The award was presented on Monday night.


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