Supportive housing aids city’s vulnerable

JASON NYKIEL

In Brisbane’s West End is an apartment complex with a difference. Unlike the multitude of other new housing developments that seem to be filling the suburb’s streets, this complex has a special mission: To provide safe and affordable accommodation for people struggling with chronic homelessness.

Common Ground Queensland’s apartments

Common Ground Queensland’s apartments offer safe, affordable housing to those experiencing chronic homelessness. Photo: Jason Nykiel

Common Ground’s foyer is clean and bright and echoes with laughter and conversation. The tenants have every right to be happy given that most of them once lived on Brisbane’s streets.

Now, thanks to not-for-profit organisations Common Ground Queensland and MICAH Projects, they have safe, stable, affordable housing.

The apartment complex, which is managed by Common Ground Queensland, houses both individuals and families suffering from chronic homelessness, as well as others on low incomes.

The complex is 14 storeys high, has 146 fully furnished studio and one-bedroom apartments, and also provides tenants with access to a computer room, an art studio, a rooftop garden, a communal lounge area and a billiard room.

Each self-contained apartment is leased to someone in need, with rent amounts never exceeding more than a third of a resident’s total income.

Residents who were experiencing homelessness pay a small percentage of their government benefits towards the rent and the remainder is subsidised by Common Ground Queensland.

The accommodation complex was the brainchild of not-for-profit organisation MICAH Projects, which has been involved in a host of social justice causes, including Brisbane’s homeless, since it officially launched in 1995.

MICAH Projects are able to provide their services thanks to both state and federal government grants, the generosity of Brisbane businesses, and through regular fundraising events.

Common Ground apartment

Common Ground offers modern city living for both the previously homeless and for members of the general public on low incomes. Photo: Common Ground Queensland

MICAH Projects CEO Karyn Walsh said the group became frustrated with the lack of progress they were making in decreasing the number of homeless people in Brisbane, so they decided to re-evaluate their strategy.

“We had been doing work with homeless for many years and we decided as an organisation that we needed to do things differently,” Ms Walsh said.

“In the early 2000s we started getting really depressed about the state of homelessness,” she said.

“There were people dying on the streets, there were people giving birth on the streets, so we started to look at other solutions to homelessness, rather than just managing it.”

“We looked around for housing partners and found none interested, so in 2007 the MICAH board approved the formation of another company, and that was Common Ground Queensland,” Ms Walsh said.

Common Ground Queensland was incorporated in 2008 and soon after the Federal Government announced it would fund construction of the proposed apartment complex.

Then, in 2012, after approximately four years of additional fundraising and planning, Common Ground’s accommodation complex was officially opened, with all 146 vacancies filling in just five months.

Common Ground Queensland’s CEO Sonya Keep oversees the accommodation aspects of the complex and said although providing accommodation for those in need was vital, it was just the first step towards helping people regain control of their lives.

Common Ground CEO Sonya Keep

Common Ground CEO Sonya Keep believes supportive housing is an important step in helping people regain control of their lives. Photo: Jason Nykiel

“The main factors [of homelessness] we know, through the research, are poverty, domestic and family violence, mental illness and dislocation from family… not having anyone who can support you when things get tough.” Ms Keep said.

“It’s all about offering personalised, individual support to help people overcome the challenges they face,” she said.

In addition to housing, Common Ground Queensland offers their tenants access to on-site services to ensure the key issues that contributed to an individual’s homelessness are addressed.

Ms Keep said once tenants were settled, MICAH Projects provided them with caseworkers who were responsible for assessing each tenant’s needs and organising any support services deemed necessary.

“They [MICAH Projects] have what they refer to as a multidisciplinary team, which includes individual case managers who will link people into the services they might need, so if they need a mental health professional, someone to help with drug and alcohol addictions, or getting a job [they can do that], ” Ms Keep said.

Common Ground Queensland foyer

Common Ground Queensland accommodation facilities include a gym, an art studio, and a billiards and games room. Photo: Common Ground Queensland

She said Common Ground also offers a range of services on site to assist those without transport so they can access the services at any time.

“They also have the inclusive health centre on-site, which offers more holistic and allied health services,” Ms Keep said.

“There is a chef on site to assist with cooking and someone to take people shopping, so we offer a very broad scope of services to residents,” she said.

Ms Keep said the complex currently had 100 per cent occupancy, and said half of the tenants had experienced long-term homelessness while the other half were members of the general public who were living on low incomes.

“We offer half of our tenancies to the formerly chronically homeless and half to those on low incomes and looking for accommodation in town so we get that diverse building community,” she said.

Those interested in living at the apartment complex must meet a strict set of guidelines as defined by the Queensland Department of Housing.

Once approved, tenants sign a lease for as long as they would like to stay, at which point they receive all the protections the Residential Tenancy Authority offers, a first for most Common Ground residents.

If you or someone you know are in need of low-income housing, please call Common Ground Queensland on (07) 3370 8320 for more details about the services they offer or visit their website. www.commonground.org.au.

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