Acclaim for Haven; Home, Safe program Sidney Myer Haven

A Bendigo-based housing and support initiative has received its fourth accolade in two years.

What can the Sidney Myer Haven program teach us about tackling homelessness?

MICHELLE Marschall’s eyes widened as she reflected on her first few months at the Sidney Myer Haven centre.

“Intense” was the word the 25-year-old used to describe the program, which couples affordable housing with education.

“It’s confronting to have to open up and take on board that they’re there to help you, not hurt you,” Michelle said. 

But life has changed for the better since she decided to commit to the two-year initiative, based in Flora Hill.

She and her four-year-old son live in a place where they feel safe and supported. 

They have made friends with the other residents.

And Michelle is working towards the goal she identified when she first moved into the centre – becoming a nurse.

The future, not the past, guides the support programs available to residents.

“We don’t spend too much time reflecting,” program manager Susan Farrell said.

She said the team worked with each person to identify what they wanted their life to be like then they graduated.

Staff then supported the residents to achieve their goals. 

“The structure and pathways are different for each person,” social curriculum co-ordinator Tim Sullivan said. 

“It’s completely individualised – that’s why it’s successful,” Ms Farrell added. 

Ensuring Tyler is happy and healthy is high among Michelle Marschall's priorities after graduating from the Sidney Myer Haven program. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

Ensuring Tyler is happy and healthy is high among Michelle Marschall's priorities after graduating from the Sidney Myer Haven program. Picture: EMMA D'AGOSTINO

The $7.5 million initiative has won four awards since 2015, and is in the running for another accolade. 

In August 2015, the Sidney Myer Haven program was awarded an inaugural Community Sector Banking Housing Impact Award. 

PowerHousing Australia awarded the Haven; Home, Safe initiative its Excellence in Tenant Engagement and Social Inclusion award in June.

Less than a month later, the Australasian Housing Institute named the project the inaugural recipient of the Anthony Hardy Excellence in Social Housing award. 

A week ago, the Council to Homeless Persons recognised the Sidney Myer Haven program for its excellence in ending homelessness, particularly among children and families. 

“Across the spectrum, the program is achieving extremely high rates of engagement and successful outcomes for highly vulnerable young people and their kids,” the judges said.

The program is a finalist at the 2017 Australasian Housing Institute Professional Excellence in Housing Awards, to be announced in November.

Ms Farrell was hopeful the recognition would lead to opportunities to expand the initiative. 

Housing Minister Martin Foley announces a $27 million boost to housing for vulnerable Victorians. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Housing Minister Martin Foley announces a $27 million boost to housing for vulnerable Victorians. Picture: DARREN HOWE

The state government’s August announcement of $27 million to tackle homelessness had the hallmarks of the Haven; Home, Safe project.

In addition to housing, the eight organisations in receipt of funding were required to provide support programs.

Haven; Home, Safe chairwoman Sue Clarke referred to the Accommodation for Homeless program as “Sidney Myer Haven on Wheels.

“It’s taking that model, lifting the best bits out of that, and putting it in other parts of Victoria,” Ms Clarke said.

Haven; Home, Safe will buy 15 properties with its share of the $27 million.

The Sidney Myer Haven centre comprises of 19 units.

Common areas include an education centre, a playground and a picnic area.

An additional, staff-only unit is the only area on the premises not accessible to residents. 

The centre is staffed around the clock.

CCTV, security passes and an intercom system help ensure the residents’ safety. 

A smoking ceremony marked the official opening of the Sidney Myer Haven Education Centre. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

A smoking ceremony marked the official opening of the Sidney Myer Haven Education Centre. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Each of the program’s participants has experienced homelessness, or was at risk of houselessness.

Michelle’s housing situation became critical about the time she was pregnant. 

She found herself in public housing in Eaglehawk, but was driven away by concerns for her safety. 

Michelle and her son, Tyler, then alternated between couch surfing and living in a car.

They were among the first residents to move into the centre in October 2015.

At first, Michelle said it was difficult to get used to the idea of stability.

“To get used to being in a house again, not being able to run away,” she said.

She was initially reluctant to get involved with the other residents.

But she persevered. Almost two years on, Michelle said she was grateful for the support the staff and fellow residents had provided.

“There’s a sense of belonging and you get to know the people living here,” she said. 

The official opening of the Sidney Myer Haven Education Centre. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

The official opening of the Sidney Myer Haven Education Centre. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Ms Farrell said candidates considered for the Sidney Myer Haven program had to have a genuine desire to change their lives. 

All residents have received life skills support related to health and wellbeing, respectful relationships, education and training, budgeting and clearing debt. 

Residents with children parents have all been involved in parenting skills development.

Eight of the tenants are involved in tertiary education, six are working or doing apprenticeships, and three are caring for babies and young children.

Mr Sullivan said the Sidney Myer Haven program differed from others in that it wasn’t just about meeting the residents’ basic need to survive. 

“What we’re involved in, with them, is helping them reach that next step,” he said.

With graduation from the Haven; Home, Safe pilot program only weeks away, Michelle was optimistic about the future.

“It’s going to be good,” she said.