Two women standing next to each other at an indoor expo

Feros Care’s Mackay Homelessness Project started as a commitment to work at the grass roots level with some of society’s most vulnerable citizens – people with a disability who are experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless.

Now, with the project set to wind up on 30 June 2021, Feros Care Community Coordinator Di Chataway says its work will continue through a new collaboration involving a number of Mackay community organisations.

Co-located in homelessness hotspots

The Homelessness Project saw Feros Care staff in regular attendance at two locations, the Mackay St Vincent de Paul Men’s Shelter and Chances Café, a local charity dedicated to supporting and employing people who are homeless.

“Being co-located in two places where homeless people gather to access services and jobs gave us the best chance to make a difference in the lives of homeless people, many of whom have disabilities,” Di said.

“As a provider of disability services in Mackay, including NDIS Local Area Coordination, it was important for Feros Care to connect with this incredibly hard-to-reach cohort.”

Community organisations band together

Then 12 months ago the project team was able to join in the newly established Mackay Care Coordination Group (MCCG), set up after Queensland’s Department of Communities identified Mackay as one of nine locations in the state facing a homelessness crisis.

The department provided funding in partnership with Q Shelter to employ a dedicated Coordinator in each location to bring community organisations together to find solutions.

As well as Feros Care the MCCG includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Health Services, local shelters, financial support organisations, mental health and drug and alcohol services, welfare and charity groups.

Providing the necessary supports

“The MCCG partners work together to provide the necessary supports for the individual experiencing homelessness/or at risk of homelessness,” Di said. “This includes connecting them with medical services, with Centrelink, with crisis accommodation services, with employment providers.

“Our role at Feros Care involves accepting referrals from any organisation with consent from a person experiencing homelessness to explore access to the NDIS, or a supportive pathway back into mainstream society.”

Di said the innovative working relationships forged between MCCG members will become “business as usual”, and Feros Care is committed to remaining an integral part of the MCCG.

Project began in shadow of ‘looming crisis’

“When our Feros Care Homelessness Project started two years ago it was in response to a looming housing crisis, and that was before the huge impact of COVID on regional housing,” Di said.

“Over the past year rental properties have become even harder to find and rents have gone through the roof, and more and more people are homeless. It’s probably only going to get worse before it gets better.

“People who are homeless are often isolated from family and can be invisible to support services as they generally distrust government and other organisations.

Making a difference

“However, because we got in early we’ve been able to make a difference in many individuals’ lives by putting a roof over their heads and connecting them with services such as the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) and employment opportunities.

“I couldn’t do what I do without support from my team, including Homelessness Project lead Davina Harrison, LAC Beth Cooper and Community Mental Health Worker Romy Bettega who works with Chances Café.”

Since the project began Feros has assisted 12 individuals who previously relied on shelters for accommodation to set themselves up in their own homes.

Continuing the good work into the future

Chances Café, which also receives financial support from Feros Care as part of its broader sponsorship program, has just opened a second-hand store providing new training and job opportunities to vulnerable people in Mackay.

“That’s just one example of the relationships we’ve forged through the Homelessness Project that will continue through the MCCG,” Di said.

“We’ll continue our regular meetings with our partners and keep offering grassroots morning teas at the various shelters around town so we can maintain our relationships with the homeless community.”

With such a good blueprint established in Mackay, Feros Care is now aiming to do the same thing in Townsville which is confronting a similar homelessness challenge.

“It’s hard work but we’re determined to keep working together with our communities to make things better,” Di said.

FIND OUT MORE ABOUT WHAT FEROS CARE IS DOING TO SMASH STEREOTYPES AROUND DISABILITY AND WORK TOWARDS A MORE INCLUSIVE AND ACCESSIBLE WORLD HERE.

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