Twenty years of helping the homeless

IF PROVIDING accommodation to one homeless man demonstrates great charity, then the St Vincent de Paul Society’s Samaritan House in Hackett must be one of the most charitable places in Australia.

The only crisis refuge for homeless men in the ACT has provided some 6,000 men with accommodation in the 20 years since it opened, according to the local St Vincent de Paul Society president Frank Brassil.

Speaking at the 20th anniversary celebrations of Samaritan House on July 1, Mr Brassil said the problem of homelessness in the nation’s capital continues to be impossible to ignore.

“It would be really great if we were not here, but since we are, Samaritan House is much more than somewhere to kip for the night,” he said.

“A vital part of the support at Samaritan House is the focus on addressing the reasons people are homeless and providing support to see people through.

“Every morning there is a house meeting for residents where we look at a range of problems people have… that lead them to have to call on us.”

Mr Brassil said the 12-bedroom facility has operated at full capacity since it opened in 1995, with occupants typically staying for between six and 14 days.

While the type of people who take shelter at Samaritan House varies, Mr Brassil said they often have an “extraordinary range of life experience”.

“The people we help at Samaritan House are no different from the broad range of people you will find in any community,” he said.

“They are wonderful human beings whose humanity entitles them to the full respect and support we who have the capability to share with them can offer.”

Samaritan House is funded largely by the ACT Government, which recently agreed to fund refurbishments of the premises.

Mr Brassil thanked the Territory government for its support and commended it for being willing to address the major shortfall of social and affordable housing throughout Australia.

“We need real commitment rather than vague statements about ‘innovative approaches’ and high-profile projects that barely scratch the surface,” he said.

“In the ACT we have a government that is interested and is willing to help but the problem of housing supply is a national one and calls for a national solution.

“If, as a nation, we are truly successful in providing sufficient housing for everyone in Australia then perhaps in 20 years we will not be here. And that would be an achievement.”

Archbishop Christopher Prowse said the Catholic community was extremely proud to be involved in the work of Samaritan House.

He added that he believes the answer to homelessness will ultimately come from the homeless themselves.

“If they can really be setting agendas for us in the future on how best we can help people in this situation, then this will be an anniversary we’ll never forget,” he said.

There are almost 2,000 homeless men and women in the ACT, and more than 105,000 people without a home nationally.