The experience of Robert, one of the many homeless, sadly is not in isolation to the 114 people that we have housed since we undertook Registry week in June 2010 of 50 Lives 50 Homes.
Over the years we have been learning and developing better processes for linking people not simply with housing but also with the supportive services that they require. Services which enable each person to develop a different lifestyle so they can pay their rent, be a neighbour, sustain good health, make community connections and reconnect with family. It all sounds normal and simple but of course it isn’t
The whole process itself is not only characterised by new responsibilities and challenges but can often trigger the memories of past experiences and trauma – related both to when people were sleeping rough but also when they were last living in a place they called home.
For some that maybe the memory of their first behavioural episode that leads to being diagnosed with a mental illness or experiences of childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence that have marked their childhood or adult life.
One person with an addiction, after the first day of being housed said:
“Wow when I close this door and you leave I really am just with me”…..Such a difference to sleeping and living in public places.
Does this mean that we should not be on this journey?
Some may say yes! – We are setting people up to fail
As we are committed to working on bringing to each person what they need to make it work we believe in what we are doing despite the challenges.
We know that to do so goes well beyond what we as an organisation alone can do. Once we resolve a person’s homelessness it is then a matter of continuing the journey of creating new connections in the community , old connections with family and friends and tackling the reality of what living in poverty is like when housed compared to when homeless….
So much of the discourse around disadvantage people is about them becoming self reliant and responsible when if fact what they need are services designed to recognise the very real barriers that impact on their life on a daily basis.
How people access housing and healthcare are the two stand out issues confronting our Street to Home workers everyday. We have to keep advocating for the range and mix of services that people need to move beyond being trapped by homelessness, social isolation and poverty.
Common Ground as you know is currently being built and we hope that it will provide us with some new opportunities to change the way people access services.
It will provide another 76 units targeting people who are sleeping rough. We are certainly advocating that some of the people we currently support can access a transfer to Common Ground as on site services will be of greater benefit. We also hope that the units they currently occupy m can be accessible also to rough sleepers so that we can continue to reduce the number of people sleeping rough in Brisbane.
The onsite services include concierge and support workers who will provide onsite tenant services and link people with the services they are entitled to from the community.
The Mater Health Services and Mater Foundation are assisting us to find a philanthropic sponsor to enable us to have as a staff member a clinical nurse who can assist in integrating health into the supportive services. We have learnt this is a critical success factor for many people who have experienced chronic homelessness in making the transition to having a home and improving their health and quality of life.
Currently the timeline for Common Ground to be completed is April and we will be selecting tenants over the next couple of months. As you may know there is 146 units with half allocated to low income workers as well as the half of people who have experienced homelessness. The building has many sustainability features such as recycled water and solar panels and green switch in each unit which allow with the flick of a switch all power to be turned off. The design has been particularly attentive to air flow and ventilation all things that help make a home more comfortable across the seasons
The process of advocating for and implementing Common Ground here in Brisbane as we often say “A little bit of New York in South Brisbane” is one that has been filled with challenges and opportunities that I am proud that we all as a community and as an organisation have been associated with.
The networks among our community of people who have contacted their local member, or put in submissions supporting the project, have contributed donations to building up the evidence with us that such an inniative will work here.
Each time I go to Brisbane Common Ground I also pass St Marys Church which has been under renovation. I often find myself reflecting on our journey as a community with people and especially many of the indigenous people whom we still support. The days when we had over 50 people sleeping in the car park behind the house and others out the front of the church, when people would randomly take their place around the table with us. … Some of these people have died since we shared those experiences, but less have died on the streets thanks to a change in polices which started to focus on providing housing fist..
I know sometimes people have said how much that interaction is missed now we are here…. but I have found myself thinking we should be much happier knowing that people are not reliant on coming into a church to beg or ask for some money… because now they have a home.
Whilst it presents many challenges for them our efforts is far better placed working out how to support and enable them too keep their home and a better quality of life. This I believe gives them more dignity then acceptance for the interruptions that once characterised our liturgies.
It is somehow ironical that now instead of people sleeping out around us we are watching just down the street the emergence of a building that will house and support some of the very people who once were around the premises of St Marys.
It is great that our efforts have enabled people who for many years have slept on the river bank, around the church, even on the ground at the site of Common Ground can now remain part of this neighbourhood. South Brisbane is an ever changing landscape as an inner city community and it is great to see in the midst of multiple unit building one that will provide a place for people on low incomes who call this community their home.
It gives us a great sense of bringing to reality our mission to create justice and respond to injustice when we see the signs on the posts around South Brisbane saying “ Welcome to the Precinct for Business, Arts and Culture, Education Dining and living “
Knowing that 146 people can afford to be a part of this precinct despite being on low incomes and many of the businesses, arts, health and educational institutions want to partner with us to ensure people feel connected and part of the neighbourhood is a great support to us and Common Ground Qld as we move forward in tenanting the units.
We will definitely keep you informed over the next couple of months.
We will be needing volunteers if you have time in setting up the building and getting ready.
One of the lessons we have learnt is that if the unit is established with the essentials of crockery and linen, furniture then the transition for a person is easier and over time they can personalise and change things as it becomes their home. So we will be preparing unit, providing welcoming packs which some of the schools have already begun to assist with.
Call us at Micah if you or someone you know is interested in becoming a tenant. We can provide the application kit.
Common Ground nor the Street to Home 50 Lives 50 Homes Campaign have ended homelessness in Brisbane, nor have they been able to prevent the hundreds of low income people who have been displaces but we know that by taking a systematic approach for the 114 people currently housed, our efforts have made a difference, and we are very excited to have the opportunity to extend this to another 76 people.
Once again I would like to thank the many people in the community who have been on this journey with us because it is the community effort both from St Marys’ and the broader community that makes all the difference to achieving the outcome we want which is a home for any person who is living on the streets of Brisbane.
In ending I would like to share with you the quote on the Brisbane Common Ground Booklet
Hope: a feeling of expectation and desire for a particular thing to
a feeling of trust
15 Hope Street is a great address