People with a lived experience of homelessness support others sleeping rough

24 August 2020
Woman and man chatting while sitting in a park

On any given day, Joal, 34, is meeting people experiencing homelessness in Melbourne who are reaching out for help and making multiple calls, to get them that help.

Joal is one of the first Peer Settlement Support Workers in Australia, which means she works with people to adjust in their new homes and community, as well as set goals for themselves.

Joal says people without a home relate to her caring demeanour because she knows more than anyone what they’ve been through; she has lived it.

Peer Support Worker Joal
Peer Support Worker Joal draws on her own experience of homelessness to support others.

She experienced homelessness on and off for 20 years. As a child, Joal’s mum fled from a domestic violence household with four kids. After working two jobs, Joal’s mum saved to buy a house but five years later, she lost her job and had to sell it. As a single mother, her Mum had also been dealing with clinical depression. They then again found themselves without a home.

At 16, Joal ran away from home and looked after herself. At 24, she went into a youth refuge and came into contact with a support worker who eventually found her a house, and she has stayed housed for the past 10 years.

Joal supports people to resettle and stabilise after homelessness

During that time, Joal joined Council to Homeless Persons’ Peer Support Resettlement Project (PSRP), where she uses her lived experience to help people experiencing homelessness to resettle and stabilise after homelessness.

Sacred Heart Mission has supported two Peer Settlement Support Worker roles as part of the project, within Journey to Social Inclusion and GreenLight Supportive Housing Program.

Joal also undertook Sacred Heart Mission’s trauma-informed care training. She gained in-depth knowledge about the support and interventions needed to help deal with complex cases of trauma and empower people experiencing homelessness.

Fast forward 10 years, Joal is now working as a Peer Support Worker for Launch Housing. She’s drawing on her experiences and providing emotional support to help others who’ve been sleeping rough to adjust to their homes, establish connections with their communities and look at the bigger picture.

Rebuilding confidence and self-esteem

Her work involves establishing a connection with her clients and works with their case managers to provide the best support for them to find a pathway out of homelessness.

“If you have gone through homelessness and (you are) lost in a system; you lose a lot of self-esteem and confidence,” Joal says.

“I try to have conversations with people to instil that confidence back into their lives and about who they were and what they used to be. Like, what we can do today to build confidence in someone.

“I took someone to a barber once to get a beard and haircut and a hot towel – the beard was a huge thing; to them it felt scary not to have it but it was hard to maintain. Afterwards, he loved it and I heard he was smiling for the next three weeks; that is dignity.”

One of Joal’s most memorable moments while doing outreach work and shadowing a case manager, was when someone experiencing homelessness heard what Joal did for work and said:

“I see you are not homeless anymore and so that means, I will get out of this one day? I feel this is my life and I will live like this forever”, Joal explains.

“By speaking with her, I was able to let her know that she will get out of this spot and give her hope.

“When people tell me things about their life; they trust me enough to let me in or tell me stuff that they might not have told anyone else.”

Peer Settlement Support Workers are an invaluable asset to our J2SI program

Sacred Heart Mission is excited to be recruiting for a new Peer Settlement Support Worker for its J2SI 3.3 program, thanks to a partnership with the Council to Homeless Persons’ Peer Support Resettlement Project and funding from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Peer Settlement Support Workers have provided invaluable support and hope to people experiencing homelessness who have found new homes through our GreenLight and J2SI Programs.

Through continued government funding, we can employ more Peer Support Settlement Workers who can meet with people experiencing homelessness and help them reach their goals. These roles are important for people who’ve experienced homelessness to gain employment and be recognised for their lived experience and contribution.

The new Peer Settlement Support Worker will work with our J2SI 3.3 clients as they settle into their new homes.