“Meeting people where they’re at” – services supported by the Vinnies CEO Sleepout

Wednesday 25 May 2021

“I really don’t like it when people label someone as ‘homeless’.”

“We all go through life, and if you look at it like a story book, we only know somebody for a tiny chapter.

“A lot of people who come through our door have a story; we meet people where they’re at and say ‘how can we help – what do you need to get back in the community?’

“I love that I’m able to facilitate change in people’s lives.”

As the manager of the Matthew Talbot Homeless Service, Karen Soper and her team work every day to support men and men with children throughout Newcastle and Lake Macquarie in need of housing.

She describes it as a fulfilling job but since the onset of COVID the number of calls for assistance has grown at a dramatic rate.

Witnessing a changing demographic of families living out of their cars as a result of the local housing market pricing people on low incomes out of the communities they grew up in, the funds raised from the Vinnies CEO Sleepout enables the Matthew Talbot team to help people find homes to call their own.

“At Matthew Talbot we’ve got eight beds here on site that are all self-contained for single men, along with two two-bedroom villas for men to stay with their pets,” explains Karen.

“Around the corner we have a four-bedroom house and a three-bedroom house, they’re for men with children.

“We want to keep families together, so mothers are able to remain with their families in these properties and linked with alternative specialised support.”

In addition to providing the safety and security of a place to stay, people seeking assistance are aided by case workers who develop plans to identify support as needed, ranging from mental health, education and employment, though at the forefront of the approach is housing as a first priority.

It’s here where the funds raised from the Vinnies CEO Sleepout makes the biggest impact for individuals and families supported by the Matthew Talbot Homeless Service.

“The money we receive allows us to keep the properties up to a really good standard; when someone moves in, we deck them out with fresh linen.

“We have kids on site who aren’t connected to schools, funds go towards their school set-up with backpacks, uniforms and lunchboxes.

“The bulk of the money that gets donated goes to setting up people’s new homes – cleaning products, kitchenware, beds, furniture, we get the kids involved with picking what kind of bedspread or toys they want.”

With staff stretched to capacity and upwards of 80 people currently waiting for a case worker, the impact of sky high property prices and rent has led to an environment where those facing hardship in Newcastle are quickly staring down the barrel of poverty.

This is only magnified by rental inspections attracting upwards of 70 people in the city.

Adding to the bleak picture, the feedback provided by real estate agents encapsulates the failure of the current housing market.

“The real estate agents are saying to us now, I’ll be honest we’re not looking at anybody who’s on benefits – we don’t need to.”

“There’s only a limited supply of social housing and the affordable housing that is out there is really not affordable to the people we’re supporting.”

The Vinnies CEO Sleepout takes place on Thursday 17 June. You can make a difference and support the Matthew Talbot Homeless Service in Newcastle by making a donation at ceosleepout.org.au