Sidney Myer Haven House projects

Welcome to Week 25

Welcome to week 25 of 40 Stories in 40 Weeks. In this extract from our History co-authored by Sarah Harris and Don Baker, we knock on the door of the award-winning Sidney Myer Haven project which is successfully redirecting the lives of young adults and families at risk of homelessness.

The chocolate box pretty cottage that serves as the gateway to Sidney Myer Haven is like no version of home its residents have known. Such was the care taken with every detail of the renovation that even the bricks of a redundant chimney were re-purposed to make the front steps to this life-changing project’s charming facade. With its large communal kitchen and living space the cottage is in many ways the heart of the Somerville Street site. It’s unthinkable now that it would have been demolished were it not for the heritage overlay, but for almost two years it was really just another obstacle for staff and residents to work around.

“One of the biggest moments for me was when we moved into this building after working out of Unit 19 for almost two years,” program manager Susan Farrell recalls. “I decided to cook something for the residents because we had just completed a triathlon together and I wanted to say well done and thank you, it was a really great day. I looked in the fridge to see what we had and thought, I am going to bake an apple pie. I set to work making the pastry, chatting across the bench, and realised there were all these eyes on me. I thought then, Oh my God, not one of these people has ever sat across a bench from their mum while she was making pastry. No one in this room has ever done this before.

“So I was, like, you can do the apples, go grab those, and you can make another batch of pastry beside me and let’s do this together. And that is where we went with the whole ethos of the kitchen, just sitting there doing normal things like make a toastie and a cup of tea and having a chat. I often teach things my mum taught me. Doing that really brief incidental counselling that happens when you sit across and talk to someone who gives a shit. And we get so much information, so much from residents about what they want and we have the flexibility to implement it, therefore we get this level of engagement.”

What makes Sidney Myer Haven exceptional, as Tim Sullivan, the social curriculum co-ordinator, proudly points out, is that it is so tailored to individuals. “There is flexibility in the program for residents, but also for staff,” he says. “It is incredibly dynamic – the things we were doing in the last six months are not the things that we will necessarily be doing in the next six months. It really works on who is here and what they need and want.”

The goal here is nothing short of transforming lives. The “intense” two-year program is aimed at equipping people who have been or are at risk of homelessness with the skills not only to gain and sustain housing for themselves and their families, but to participate fully in the mainstream environment.

From the first intake the results have been remarkable. Graduates include a second-year apprentice builder and a second-year nurse. For others, like the young man with an intellectual disability who moved in not even knowing how to make toast, the experience has been more about gaining practical life skills. Brad now can not only cook for himself, but also drive and is living independently in the community.

“It blows my mind how far some have come,” Farrell says.