‘Homelessness can happen to anyone. These men could be your father, brother, cousin, workmate or a friend. For the men who stay with us, Samaritan House is more than a house, it is a home. It is a hot meal and a seat at the table; it is a place to have a shower and wash clothes; it is a listening, caring and supportive ear and a place to rest and recover.
‘Besides me, everyone else is a volunteer and we are totally funded by the good people of Geelong. We don’t charge rent, but the men give back to us by helping around the house and in the vegetable garden. The men know that everyone is a volunteer and they are very respectful, it is all about mutual respect.’ We hear from Josephine who has run Samaritan House Geelong, since its inception 5 years ago.
‘Volunteers who sleep overnight range from Deakin University students to a man in his mid-80s. Schools loan their teachers to us and businessmen take monthly shifts. It is wonderful how it has gone ahead.
‘We have a team of more than 110 volunteers, but are always looking for more. We are open 365 days a year, including Christmas Day, and take a holistic approach to care.
‘Our assistant coordinator is Tommy, a Caboodle who came to us fully trained, but in his time with us, we’ve been able to untrain him. I’ve often found him asleep on someone’s lap.
‘We opened in 2012, to provide crisis overnight accommodation for four homeless men. Since then, we’ve offered hope and shelter to more than 300 men who would otherwise be sleeping rough.
‘We’ve just launched our Winter Appeal and we rely on donations to keep our doors open. Keith Fagg heads up the board. www.samaritanhousegeelong.com.au/
‘Since 2012, our work has expanded. With the extraordinary generosity of our patron Mr Lino Bisinella and his family, together with many other supporters, a new purpose-built facility was created alongside the original house, opened in December 2015. Consequently, Samaritan House Geelong can now support up to 13 men at a time. The original building is used as a transition house, where men can be supported for up to three months while working towards a better future. www.instagram.com/samaritanhousegeelong/
‘For men sleeping on the streets, their days and nights are reversed as they are too scared to fall asleep after dark. When they are ready, we get them up at 7.30am and they are taken into town where they work proactively on finding accommodation and jobs. It is the all-important image of hope that we are instilling in them.
‘One man who was with us has just started an apprenticeship. I’m pleased to say 50% go on to find stable housing and we don’t get many repeats. Most of our guests lack connections with family or the community. Many have been brought up in orphanages and foster homes, some have mental health issues, acquired brain injury or other health problems. Sadly, others are victims of sexual abuse and family violence. Some turn to alcohol, drugs or gambling for respite from depression. Homelessness can be unexpected for example, in relationship breakdowns and men are shocked as they never believed it would happen to them.
‘We’re not running in isolation, we have connections to social services at the ground roots level and lots of support from Foundation 61. The man who is trying to get the homeless off the streets of Melbourne came to look at what we are doing to use us as a model, as we are the only house of the kind in the region.
‘I’d like to thank all the Churches who help us out in so many different ways. Some provide funds received through their Op Shops, others have small groups fundraising for us.
‘We are always on the lookout for volunteers, particularly males to sleep over. Perhaps you know a father, brother, uncle or a friend who may be interested in supporting us in this way.’
Interview by Jacqui Bennett. Photo by: The Geelong Advertiser of Josephine & Tommy.