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.
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.
Our warm, welcoming Dining Hall in St Kilda is the heart of the Mission and where hundreds of people who are experiencing homelessness come every day of the year to share a meal. Hear from Head Chef Kirsty, Chef Robyn, Volunteer Simon and Case Manager Catherine, why the Meals Program is vital for our community:
Kirsty: At the Meals Program, it’s very important that we are providing a nutritious meal, but it’s not just about the meal. It’s also about trying to engage the people and to give them a sense of community. Donations are very important. Probably 90-95% of our food is produced through the donations from big and small businesses.
We do make over 400 meals a day. It’s very busy. It can get very hectic at times, but it’s also a lot of fun.
Simon: For me, it’s about realising how fortunate I actually am, and how unfortunate many of us are in the community. This is part of the community; it does a great service to the city of Melbourne and to the people in need.
Robyn: We make a difference in people’s lives. We’re including people that are often isolated. We welcome them to the Dining Hall. Everybody is welcome here.
Kirsty: We do this every day, 365 days a year.
Catherine: As a Case Worker, the environment of the Dining Hall is a place where you can engage with clients and may take many meals before they feel safe to start asking for help, but then you’re there and you can start providing a whole range of services that the Mission.
And that’s why it’s far more than just a meal.
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.
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.
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