Samaritan House Geelong: a brief history
Samaritan House was created in 2012 as a community-driven response to the growing problem of homelessness in Geelong, the largest regional city in the State of Victoria, Australia.
Faced by a severe shortage of short term crisis accommodation, a group of concerned Geelong citizens came together to do something about it.
Initial discussions about the problem began around 2010 after the recent unavoidable closure of a Salvation Army hostel had reduced the crisis accommodation available in a city of 220,000 people to just five beds.
A survey in February 2012 found that at least 171 Geelong people were sleeping “rough” – on the streets, in squats, tents or sheds, or in cars. At the same time, more than 220 men, women and children were on the waiting list for emergency accommodation with one agency alone, the Salvation Army.
A committee was formed later in 2010 and met frequently through 2010-11 at the offices of the Costa Group to learn more about the problem, discuss possible solutions and develop the best service plan to deal with the problem in Geelong. Extensive research into homelessness was undertaken, including visits to homeless services in Victoria, interstate and overseas. A search was also commenced for a suitable property.
Key members of the committee, generally acknowledged as the founders of Samaritan House, were:
· Lawrie Miller, former Executive Director, Geelong Chamber of Commerce (Chairman)
· Bishop Peter Danaher, Vicar, All Saints Anglican Church, Newtown
· Father Kevin Dillon, Parish Priest, St Mary of the Angels Parish, Geelong
· Andrew Balaam, St Laurence Community Services board member
· Gary and Rosalyn McIlvena, St Vincent de Paul Society members
· Sheila Mansfield, St Vincent de Paul Society member, and
· Lisa Dalla-Zuanna, Regional Manager, Salvation Army
Other committee members during the planning phase included:
· Lino Bisinella, Managing Director, L. Bisinella Developments Pty Ltd
· Richard Bisinella, Development Manager, L. Bisinella Developments Pty Ltd
· Tania Craig, Hostel Manager, SalvoConnect
· Kerri Crtalic, SalvoConnect Support Services
· Alexandra Gunning, St Laurence Community Services
· Peter Serra, Managing Director, Select Architects
· Wally Pelaccia, St Marys of the Angels Parish treasurer
· Tony White, Redstick Strategic Communications
· Simone Bellears, Geelong Football Club Community Development Office
· Mark Cooper, McKillop Family Services Geelong
· Colin Hastings, Christ Church Meals Program
· Paul Kimber, Manager, The Outpost - a homeless drop-in centre in Geelong
· Andrew Edgar, Barwon South West Homeless Network
· Mark Wilkin, Human Resources Manager, Barwon Health, and
· Darryl Thomas, CEO Geelong Cemeteries Trust
A not-for-profit company, Samaritan House Geelong Ltd, was formed in December 2011.
Foundation board members on the incorporation of Samaritan House Geelong Ltd were Father Dillon, Gary McIlvena and Sheila Mansfield.
The inaugural board was elected in February 2012:
· Lawrie Miller (Chairman)
· Father Dillon
· Gary McIlvena
· Sheila Mansfield
· Andrew Balaam
Others who joined the board in the early years were:
· Michael Dowling (Chairman 2014-2016)
· Keith Fagg (Chairman 2016-Present)
Others served, along with board members, on the building and fundraising committees.
Lino Bisinella accepted the committee’s invitation to be the project’s patron.
A Geelong businessman and philanthropist, Lino was approached by Gary McIlvena and Father Dillon in 2011. They were aware of the ongoing financial support he was providing to the Christ Church Community Meals Program.
Like others involved in the project, Lino had long been concerned about the plight of the homeless and could not understand why any person should have to sleep without a roof over their head in a society like Australia.
Lino’s financial support enabled a house to be purchased on a large block of land (for future expansion) in the Geelong suburb of Newcomb. He provided the guarantee necessary to obtain the loan from the Bendigo Bank and paid the monthly interest. He also donated the services of his company, Bisinella Developments, to renovate and upgrade the house to meet the required standards.
Samaritan House Geelong began accepting homeless men for short term overnight accommodation in July 2012. Run by a full-time Co-ordinator, Josephine Barnes – a qualified nurse, registered teacher, trained social worker and graduate in theology - the initial facility was able to accommodate up to four guests and two overnight volunteers.
Josephine worked with the Board, a large band of trained volunteers and other agencies to develop a specialised service model. Samaritan House was tailored to complement existing services, particularly the longstanding Anglican community meals program at Christ Church, Geelong. Referrals were arranged through agencies such as SalvoConnect and St Vincent de Paul.
The focus from the outset was on creating a homely environment. It was a place where the men could feel safe, secure, welcome and relaxed. The men shared a home-cooked evening meal around a large communal table with the coordinator and the volunteers before retiring to their comfortable single rooms for the night. In the morning they were driven in a small bus to breakfast at Christ Church.
Dozens of volunteers made themselves available to help run the house. A dedicated group was rostered to stay overnight as supervisors. Others cooked, cleaned, washed clothes, drove the bus or looked after the garden. Soon there were more than 100 volunteers on the roster.
The volunteers reached out to the men in friendship. The men were amazed that the volunteers would give up a night at home for them. Many commented that they had never felt so “at home”.
Community donations and fundraising events covered the ongoing operational costs. Father Dillon launched his “No Room at the Inn Appeal” at Christmas 2011 and his parish community responded generously. Other churches and the wider Geelong community quickly joined in.
The first annual Samaritan House Sleep Out was held at the Geelong Racecourse in October 2012 and an annual winter appeal began the following year. Significant donations were made by organisations such as Give Where You Live, the Geelong Community Foundation, the Percy Baxter Trust, service clubs and individuals. A $180,000 bequest was used for both operating costs and debt reduction. Donations of food meant that home-cooked meals were provided at minimal cost.
Various Geelong business people provided pro bono support, including Kevin Roache and Patrick Rowan (legal), Peter Serra (architecture), Pat Murnane (Bendigo Bank) and Brian Sherwell (building surveyor).
Students from schools such as St Josephs College, Sacred Heart College and The Geelong College helped with fundraising, in kind donations and volunteering.
The project was entirely community-driven and received no government or local council funding support.
At first Samaritan House operated five nights a week, but it was soon evident that the time when homeless men were most at risk was at weekends. It also became clear that the concept of overnight accommodation had limitations.
By the end of 2013, the house was open seven nights a week and guests were staying for a few nights or longer – allowing time for Josephine and others to assist them in resolving issues in their lives such as reconciling with their families, sorting out social security or court issues, receiving health treatment, finding longer term accommodation or even, in some cases, achieving employment.
These changes to the service model accelerated the need for additional accommodation. At a fundraising breakfast in June 2013, Lino Bisinella announced that he and his family would contribute $250,000. The Bisinella family’s generous commitment gave the board confidence to move forward immediately with detailed planning.
The initial expansion proposal was for a dormitory-like building, but this was reconsidered by the board in 2013-14 and a fresh design was developed to provide a “large family home” atmosphere. The re-designed building would accommodate an extra nine men and was estimated to cost $625,000.
Once again Lino Bisinella stepped in, determined to deliver the new building at the lowest possible cost to Samaritan House. It was agreed that his company, Bisinella Developments, would construct the new accommodation with the aid of donated goods and services from a large number of Geelong consultants, contractors and suppliers.
Contributions to the building project included:
· Civil works - Wellam Constructions, $39,000
· Roof - Bluescope Steel (materials) and Faulkner Roofing (labour), $13,000
· Windows - Paul Gray of Southern Star Windows, $30,000
· Plasterboard - Ian Begley of Hamlan Homes, $10,000
· Tiles - Volare Concepts, $5000
· Architectural design and plans - Select Architects, $30,000
· Professional services – TGM Group, $10,000
· Landscaping - Ausscapes, $4,000
· Building permit – BSA Building Surveyors, $4,000
· Plants - Wombat Gully Plant Farm, $3,000
Concrete was supplied by Local Mix, taps by Hardings, containers by Tutt Bryant Hire, soil tests by Saunders Structural Works, and interior decoration by Space Grace and Style. Further donations such as furniture and appliances were obtained to fit out the new facility.
When the new building was finished in August 2015, Lino handed it over to Samaritan House Geelong at no cost. Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Lino and his family, Samaritan House had a new purpose-built facility and no new debt.
Geelong’s special home for homeless men could now accommodate up to 13 men and three overnight volunteers. The communal table had been a key feature of Samaritan House from day one and a magnificent new table sat in the middle of the new building’s central lounge area. Brightly-decorated bedrooms, the bathrooms, the kitchen and the laundry adjoined the lounge on three sides, with glass doors opening on to a large wooden deck and barbecue area. The new building was packed on 11 December 2015 for the official opening by Professor Allan Fels AO.