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Welcome to Community – How we’re supporting people returning to society after imprisonment

Imagine being released from custody without the comfort of family or friends to welcome you, no place to call home, and no idea how to navigate the world outside.  

This is the harsh reality for many men and women who find themselves back in society after being in custody. Without support, many are at risk of falling through the cracks, facing predation, and reoffending.  

But in Mackay, North Queensland, a collaborative initiative known as “Welcome to Community” seeks to change this narrative by providing essential support for reintegration into society. 

Welcome to Community is a network of government departments and local organisations working together to help recently released individuals transition back into the community.   

Many newly released people face significant challenges re-entering society. Sometimes, without family or friends to lean on, these individuals are vulnerable. Those with intellectual disability, mental illness, or acquired brain injuries face even greater hurdles. Without a support network and guidance, they can often struggle. 

That’s where Feros Care and the Welcome to Community cohort steps in. We work with local mainstream supports to understand the challenges, stigma and prejudgment these individuals face, and we’re committed to supporting and advocating for their rights, treatment, and dignity.  

“We work with our partner Chances House to make sure they feel seen and respected,” explains Diane Chataway, Feros Care Community Development Coordinator. 

“Time is taken to listen to their stories, understand their unique needs, and show them they are valued members of the community.” 

After their release from custody in places like Townsville or Rockhampton, some find themselves in Mackay, with no permanent address. The bus usually drops them off at Chances House, the region’s only daily homeless meal service, drop-in centre, and healthcare support, as a temporary home base. 

“When they leave custody, they need to provide an address on their release forms. Since many don’t have one, they list Chances House as their place of residence,” says Diane. 

Through Feros Care’s co-location at Chances House and St Vincent de Paul Men’s Shelter, Feros Care is ready to support those who already have NDIS funding and guide others wanting to apply, often presenting options they did not know were available to them. 

“We explain what the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is and show them what kind of support they could be entitled to through the scheme. With our local knowledge, we can also link them to other community services that are relevant to their needs. This gives them a better chance to rebuild their lives after imprisonment.”  

two men standing outside homeless shelter food service Mackay

Zac Seden, Feros Care’s Community Development Coordinator and Wayne from Chances House working side by side to welcome them back to community. 


The approach to this program has been thoughtful and collaborative.  

Fifteen community organisations, including representatives from Youth, Justice, First Nations, and Housing, came together to identify and address gaps in the system. 

From these conversations, the group plotted to fill the gaps.  

We have also formed a strong relationship with Community Corrections who are supportive of the Welcome to Community project, and together we have created a clear referral path. 

group of people working to support people newly released from prison

Housing was a major concern discussed, particularly for younger individuals estranged from their families. Chances House provides crisis accommodation, meals, personal items, and soon, even showers. Through partnerships with groups like Orange Sky and St Vincent de Paul Society, laundry services, support groups, accommodation, counselling, and training are also offered.  

Other organisations fill additional gaps, such as Medicare and medication support. Many leave prison with only their custodial release documents — no formal ID, no Medicare card, no proof of their identity. Without these essentials, they can’t access necessary services or medication.  

Recognising the significant barrier posed by lack of identification for returning citizens, Feros Care is committed to addressing this challenge head-on. By covering the cost of 18 Plus cards for those without ID, individuals can access essential services such as NDIS, Centrelink and Medicare without too much delay. Additionally, CASA Community Accommodation and Support Agency assists with securing filing copies of these IDs. This prevents individuals from being stranded if identification is lost or stolen, enabling them to access crucial services. 

“It can be really difficult for those without formal ID,” says Diane. 

“Simple things, like applying for Centrelink, a birth certificate, or purchasing prescription medication can be an issue. Can you imagine the difficulty navigating these obstacles, especially if you have a disability or mental illness.” 

Feros Care has also recognised the importance of peer support. Those returning to the community often relate better to people with lived experiences, feeling safer and more understood. This is especially true for First Nations peoples, who trust and connect more with peers from their own cultural background. At Feros Care, we respect and support this cultural sensitivity. Our First Nations team member, Zac Seden, works closely with young men and women in the community, offering guidance and support in a way that resonates with them. 

“Although I’m new to Feros Care, I’m a Mackay local and understand what local mob need around here. I’m happy to be able to support my community,” says Zac. 

Welcome to Community has become a lifeline for many. Feros Care, along with key community stakeholders, is dedicated to building on this initiative, aiming to improve long-term outcomes for these individuals through consultation and co-design to understand challenges more deeply. This is just the beginning of a new way to support and empower those re-entering our community, ensuring they have the resources and opportunities to build a better future. By working together, we can help these men and women not just to survive but thrive.  

If you would like more information about Welcome to Community in Mackay you can contact Diane Chataway, Feros Care’s Community Development Coordinator on 1300 986 970. 





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