Homelessness has a local face

A group of concerned Maitland citizens, under the auspices of St Vincent de Paul Lower Hunter, has taken steps to address the local homelessness situation.

Homelessness has a local face

Pam Tierney of Maitland is a wife, a mother of six and grandmother of six. She taught in primary schools, then worked as a District Officer helping abused children and their parents with the Department of Community Services. Her last position was as CEO of Lifeline Newcastle and Hunter. If she was completing a form she might tick the 'Retired' box but nothing could be further from the truth. Pam is a tireless member of the East Maitland Conference of St Vincent de Paul (SVDP) as well as a member of other community groups.


The former Regional Chairperson of SVDP, John Hakes, invited Pam to be the Social Justice Representative for the Lower Hunter. Instead, Pam formed a Social Justice Group with eight members. The group decided its first task would be to survey the needs of the homeless in the Maitland area. Ten local organisations were consulted, ranging from Carrie's Place (women's refuge) and the Coachstop Caravan Park to the Maitland Neighbourhood Centre and CatholicCare's Maitland Youth Crisis Centre. There was an interview with representatives of the Department of Housing, and a conversation with the State Minister for Maitland, Robyn Parker MP.


The Committee's investigation found that not only is the number of people needing low cost housing or short term crisis accommodation increasing, but there is a severe shortage of such accommodation. The Regional Homelessness Action Plan 2010-2014 identified four priorities:

  • Preventing homelessness
  • Improving access to affordable housing and responding to different needs
  • Providing a connected system of services
  • Building the evidence base with data collection and evaluation.

Not all can be helped by any one organisation or plan, but the East Maitland Conference of SVDP has been granted significant funding by SVDP Central Council for a multi-purpose complex with a 'one stop shop' approach for clients and facilities for SVDP volunteers. Accommodation for tenants with various needs is planned. It is hoped a Management Committee will co-ordinate the activities of the Centre and liaise with referring agencies. John Hakes is heading the committee that oversees the project.


A further activity of the Social Justice Group was to ask Robert Moore, another member of the group and a teacher at St Mary's Campus, to initiate a speaking program to raise awareness of social justice issues among the general public. The first outcome was a Cocktail Function at the Maitland Art Gallery in July. The guest speaker was Federal Senator Marise Payne, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Development & Employment, Housing and COAG. Senator Payne said, "There is a new face of homelessness and it's a terrifying face." All proceeds supported 'William's Place' and before leaving, Senator Payne said, "Tonight I can mark the Maitland community as a very compassionate community." 


Recently, Pam had a dream. She takes up the story…


While pursuing a project on behalf of SVDP Social Justice Committee to establish the extent and causes of homelessness in the Lower Hunter, I was also taking my turn in the 'Vinnies' home visitation schedule, visiting ten or more households a day, including a homeless person. It was like a super-dunk in sorrow. I went to sleep one night thinking about all the different groups of homeless people - the mentally ill, so isolate; the single parents sleeping in cars, the young people turning to drugs and alcohol after they hit the streets. I knew we couldn't help them all, and I was wondering, and worrying about, whom we could help. 


That night I had a dream of a young man who was in the carport of my home. I don't have a carport, but dreams don't care about details like that. The young man was rolling out his sleeping bag and he had some sandwiches in his hand, like the ones you get at garages. I realised he was bunking down for the night. I said, 'What's your name?' He smiled and said, 'William'. From that point on, we just referred to the project as 'William's Place.'


To know more or to become involved, please P 4934 3833 or E pamtierney@bigpond.com

Homeless Persons Week 2012 begins on 6 August.

  • Did you know that each day nearly one in every 200 Australians is homeless, without safe, secure or affordable Housing?
  • Last year, 105,000 Australians experienced homelessness.
  • One in every 154 Australians sought help from a homeless assistance service and one in every 39 children aged under 4 slept in a homeless service.
  • 23% of Australia's homeless are children - almost one in four homeless people is under 18.
  • Of every 42 Australian children under four, one has experienced homelessness.
  • Every day, half the people who request immediate accommodation from the homeless service system are turned away.
  • Two in every 3 children who need support are also turned away, as are almost 80% percent of families.


You may like to visit www.homelessnessaustralia.org.au, the source of these statistics and much more information.

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