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Speech by Senator the Hon Ursula Stephens

Launch of St Anthony’s, St Vincent de Paul Accommodation Service for Single Women

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I would like to honour the Indigenous people, their wisdom, traditions and culture,

This is a very special event – an ecumenical rather than political occasion.

It is wonderful to see here this morning everyone here this morning especially : Father Laurie Brent, Syd Bob and Shannon from the St Vincent de Paul Society, all the members of the local Vinnies committee and friends and supporters of this great local initiative.

That we are here this morning is the culmination of a great deal of work, determination and commitment from many local people who saw a need in our community and were determined to act upon it. That need is for supportive accommodation for single women in our community at times of vulnerability.

Last week at the launch of the Mental Health Council of Australia’s publication Home Truths, I spoke about the vulnerability to homelessness of people with a mental illness. The report highlighted that the multiple problems often faced by people with a mental illness can be compounded by a lack of suitable accommodation, ultimately leaving them homeless. The reverse of course is also true – anyone who becomes homeless and is under intense pressure from their financial circumstances, a fractured relationship, estrangement from family and friends, is much more susceptible to depression, loneliness and anxiety – conditions which if not addressed, can lead to deep clinical depression, drug or alcohol dependence, even psychosis.

This report was further evidence to the government, following our white paper on homelessness, that much more needs to be done to end homelessness.

We are determined that by 2020, exiting to homelessness is not to be an option for anyone who was moving from a supportive service back into the community. This is a critical issue – it means that it will no longer acceptable for someone to be released from prison, from hospital, from a shelter, from a care facility, unless they have stable accommodation.

On the other side of the ledger, it means that we have to address the inadequate lack of appropriate social housing options available to people who are homeless.

I know that until now, this was particularly the case here in Goulburn. I understand that more than twenty women a month from the Goulburn-Mulwaree seek accommodation assistance and that the nearest appropriate services have been in Canberra or Young. That is why the establishment of St Anthony’s is such a welcome and much-needed development.

I think that one of the most impressive aspects of St Anthony’s is that it does not just provide accommodation to women. It also provides the emotional, vocational and educational support needed to overcome the problems they face and live a meaningful and fulfilling life.

The St Anthony’s approach is social inclusion in action – the importance of wrapping services around individuals when they need it, rather than having people in a vulnerable state bouncing from one service to another, waiting for appointments, having to travel, having to tell their stories over and over again.

As Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion – I say ‘we are putting people back at the centre of service delivery’.

Social inclusion is about breaking the cycle of disadvantage and bringing about lasting change. We know that effective services and programs ‘wrap’ services around individual, particularly those individuals with complex needs. It’s also about acting with people, rather than for them and giving them a voice in decisions that are being made.

So, to the women who are living here I hope you find this to be an empowering as well as caring and supportive environment for you, where you can grow strong in heart and mind, and can plot a new course in your life – good luck!

I congratulate St Vincent’s and everyone here who is involved in St Anthony’s for your effort and commitment in establishing a new service. It is an example of best practice in our region, and one that will be bring lasting change for women at risk of homelessness in our community. I love the fact that this is a lovely, safe house like others in the street. The facilities are terrific and homely, and women will feel very safe here.

So it is with enormous pleasure that I officially open St Anthony’s Single Women’s Accommodation Service and thank you all for your effort.