Hotel transformed into ‘haven’ for the homeless
AN IPSWICH charity has overhauled an old hotel into a “haven” for the homeless but there is still significant work ahead to complete its vision to address issues compounded by COVID-19.
Goodna Street Life took over the Weeroona Hotel in 2019.
They have spent close to $180,000 in operating costs and construction, plus materials and new furniture so far.
They believe their ambitious project could be a solution for those sleeping rough across Australia.
Vice president Steve Purcell, who has been with the organisation since 2016, estimates another $190,000 is needed to get Helen’s Haven completed.
Work to overhaul the Goodna hotel began in January last year.
“When we first took on the site and we came down, we found people squatting in the rooms,” he said.
“There were young parents with a baby squatting in the building. There were needles on the footpath.
“There was a lot of need for support but nothing was happening. It was the perfect space for us because this is where people need help.”
As COVID took hold a couple of months later, work was forced to a halt.
Mr Purcell discussed winding up the charity with president Helen Youngberry at the time due to finances being severely impacted.
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“I said I should be having a conversation with you about liquidating because we were insolvent,” he said.
“We had all these big debts and we just signed a (five-year lease with a five-year option) and we didn’t have any income.
“At that point we had roughly 50 people either housed or using our services for support - really important crisis support.
“We just said we’ve got to give it everything we’ve got.”
Their saving grace came as Booval-based Ipswich Housing and Support Services closed up during the pandemic after 40 years.
“They donated all of their assets to us on the closure of their charity which kept us afloat and allowed us to keep delivering a service,” Mr Purcell said.
“It saved us.”
Work was able to begin late last year with the help of volunteers, including tradies and builders who gave up their time and expertise for free.
The hotel’s landlord donated a “generous amount” towards the construction work and the State Government’s Skilling Queenslanders for Work program provided 15 trainees to assist.
The motel rooms have been extensively renovated with brand new beds and furniture installed, the pokie room has been turned into a food bank and new fencing and a barbecue space have been added.
The 12 beds on site have been in constant demand since the project started.
Those squatting in the hotel when the charity first arrived stayed while the work was undertaken and helped out where they could with the overhaul.
The restaurant was converted into a training room and the entire bar was rebuilt using the old fit-out from the Pancake Manor in Brisbane.
A dry bar and kitchen provides food and drink.
The next major stage of the project will involve installing 30 ‘sleeping pods’, which will be joined by a new toilet block and laundry facilities.
It is an ambitious long-term plan to support those sleeping rough in Ipswich; an issue Mr Purcell said had been exacerbated by COVID-19.
It will provide a secure place for anyone in need of a place to sleep at night and the chance to use a clean toilet, shower and wash clothes.
They will cost about $3000 each and Goodna Street Life is calling on local businesses and residents to chip in to make it a reality.
“We’re still obviously struggling financially to complete the project,” Mr Purcell said.
“The amount of support we’ve had to provide (during COVID-19) increased.
“There were a lot of people who fell through the gaps.”
The pods will have a solar panel to power lights, a fan and a phone charging station.
They will be built by engineering students from Challenge Employment and Training at Collingwood Park.
A prototype is under construction.
“Adding another 30 beds of an evening would really increase our ability to meet this rough sleeping need,” Mr Purcell said.
“We can do a needs assessment for somebody over a number of days.
“The current system is someone calls up and makes an appointment and they have a 15 minute phone conversation about why they’re homeless.
“You’re barely scratching the surface.
“So the pods give us access to the clients over a number of days. They can talk to crisis counsellors, drug and alcohol counsellors and get mental health support.
“We can start directing them into transitional housing and the right support.
“That was always the vision for Helen’s Haven. A place where we can provide all of the wrap around support on site where the people need it.”
COVID-19’s impact on local homelessness
Mr Purcell said COVID-19 had put tremendous strain on a system that was already struggling to deal with the number of people living on the streets.
“There was a period for a number of months where there wasn’t one temporary accommodation space available in all of southeast Queensland for a family,” he said.
“We were spending thousands of dollars a week just to keep people and families and kids off the streets during COVID.
“We took on another six townhouses to house families because there was just nothing available.”
Mr Purcell said local police welcomed the Helen’s Haven initiative.
“It means if they have someone in a crisis situation late at night, they’re not stuck driving people around or putting people in lockup that don’t need to be there but simply because they’ve got nowhere else to go,” he said.
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“There is such a severe lack of housing options for people from crisis temporary accommodation all the way through to long term housing.
“We’ve got a massive shortfall and COVID has made that significantly worse.”
Helen’s Haven will still technically operate as a motel.
“Ipswich City Council allows us under the planning scheme to have 60 days of temporary accommodation on site,” Mr Purcell said.
“That works out perfectly for what we’re doing here as a crisis centre.
“60 days gives me time to work with a client on site to make sure that all their basics needs are met.
“Those higher needs like mental health and job seeking we can address in that period and then get them into a property.”
Phone 3818 1524 for more information or to donate.
Read more stories by Lachlan McIvor here.