By Danielle Kutchel
Having worked with the homeless for more than a decade, Debbie Holmes was acutely aware of the issues many disadvantaged people face in getting off the streets.
Her organisation, the Avalon Centre, has been providing clothing, bedding and shoes to those who need help for over ten years.
But she felt that this approach was a band-aid solution and that there was more the centre could be doing to solve the problem of homelessness.
She began to research places where homelessness was on the decrease.
The only place she could find was Finland, so she delved further into what that country is doing.
Out of this research came the Avalon Centre’s Homes for the Homeless Program.
The program follows the housing first model adopted by Finland, whereby the homeless are provided first with accommodation, then ongoing support.
That support is tailored to the family depending on what their needs are.
“It could be help writing CVs, budgeting, cooking, developing networks in the community, gardening – it’s endless, whatever the family needs,” says Ms Holmes.
The program’s first house was in Narre Warren South, and it has since purchased a one-bedroom and a two-bedroom flat in Dandenong.
The south-eastern locations were chosen mainly for their affordability, and also for the area: Avalon Centre volunteers recommended Narre Warren as being a family-oriented suburb, with good access to transport, shopping centres and necessary services.
“It was ideal – we wanted to start off with a house that would provide a nice home for a family,” Ms Holmes explained.
Volunteers from the Avalon Centre, Rotary and Men’s Sheds helped paint the house and get it ready with donated furniture.
The centre gathered applications for potential tenants from other organisations working with the street and disadvantaged community, eventually choosing a family of four.
The family moved into the Narre Warren South home late last year and is now receiving support from the Avalon Centre to get back on their feet.
Ms Holmes says they were over the moon.
“It was a perfect fit – they were delirious with happiness,” she says.
Tenants also moved into the two-bedroom Dandening flat within the last week.
Now, the Avalon Centre is calling for more sponsors to support them to buy their fourth property.
“We need somebody that’s going to say they believe in what we’re doing,” says Ms Holmes.
Find out more about the Avalon Centre at https://www.avaloncentre.org.au/what-we-do/avalon-homes-for-the-homeless/