More than just a free meal

Chris Middendorp, Manager Sacred Heart Central
Chris Middendorp Manager Sacred Heart Central
6 August 2018
Chris Middendorp, Manager Sacred Heart Central

Our engagement hub at 87 Grey Street serves about 350 meals a day to people experiencing homelessness and social disadvantage, but it’s so much more than a ‘free’ meal.

At our hub, a meal is only the beginning. We are like a ‘one-stop-shop’ where people can get as little or as much support as they require. We use our meals, and the welcoming environment we foster, to engage people in conversations about making positive change.

The engagement hub model achieves remarkable outcomes

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 do not generally seek help from services. Many struggle to access conventional ‘shopfront’ services. They are often wary of services and may have had negative experiences in the past. As a result, they can find making appointments challenging and have difficulty remembering to attend them.

Twenty 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.

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We support people according to their needs

Our engagement hub model allows our highly-skilled 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.

Some people who come only need basic support. Others need a range of supports wrapped around them to assist them with substance use, a chronic illness, applying for accommodation and attending appointments. Case workers stick with the client until all issues are addressed. We call this commitment ‘assertive engagement’.

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 develop the skills to maintain their homes and feel socially included.

It can take a lot for a person to ask for help. Our engagement hub and skilled staff create a unique environment where people can take action and make important and lasting changes in their lives.

We have two engagement hubs, where people can access from Sacred Heart Mission, both located in St Kilda. Our Dining Hall, often referred to as the heart of the Mission, is open every day of the year for breakfast and lunch for anyone seeking a meal. Our Women’s House also provides breakfast and lunch on weekdays within a safe and welcoming space for women.

The work we do at our engagement hubs is just one way we at SHM are working to end homelessness.

Join the Everybody's Home campaign

We know ending homelessness takes collaboration so we are asking staff, volunteers, supporters and partners to support Everybody’s Home, a national advocacy campaign in the lead up to the Federal Election calling for: a National Housing Strategy; Investment in affordable housing; increased rights for renters; and increased rental assistance for those who need it most.

Sign up here if you want to support the campaign and end homelessness together: