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17 May 2021
Left: A few of the Homelessness Services team, which played a key role in the project. Case Manager Luke Ollington is second from left.Right: The former Miner's Rest Caravan Park.
Unique caravan park project breaks down the barriers to affordable housing
Words Jessica Morris
A mammoth collaboration between the Salvos and other services in Victoria’s Gippsland region has seen the residents of the Miners Rest Caravan Park and adjacent Capital Motel find a permanent home.
When The Salvation Army’s Homelessness Services and Family Violence Services in Gippsland heard that the site, in the seaside town of Wonthaggi, would be redeveloped and residents moved on, they swung into action.
The role of the Salvos was to make sure approximately 92 residents across 67 tenancies found a safe and stable place to call home – within 10 months.
The work started in August 2019 when Bunnings purchased the site.
“The Salvation Army had ongoing conversations with council and developers prior, and when Bunnings bought the property, we said that we wanted to work with them,” said Josh Baker, who worked as the project coordinator at the time, based out of nearby Leongatha Salvos. “And they wanted to be part of processes every step of the way.”
The team started by doorknocking at the caravan park, and a seemingly mundane task used to collate information on how to best support residents became the pivot point for building community. Luke Ollington had been a case manager with the Salvos for five months and was on his first day of university placement when he joined the project. The savvy social worker was thrown well and truly in the deep end as he compiled and sorted through the data, making sure that every number represented the needs, hopes and skills of residents.
“We found that this project shone a light on lack of affordable rentals in the area ... and the lack of crisis accommodation,” he said.
The Salvos team offered case management to every tenancy, with 60 taking up the offer.
The Open Door and Youth Homelessness teams explored the circumstances that brought residents to the park, whether they wanted to remain local, and what skills and work opportunities were open to them. The result was that residents found new homes, ranging from private rental, public housing and transitional housing to reconnection with family or another caravan park.
Given the lack of affordable housing in Gippsland, this was no small task. But, after meeting with residents, Josh and the team sought relationships with local real estate agents to break down stigma about potential tenants. In some cases, the Salvos were even able to supplement the original bond or rent. And, in other cases, residents were able to move or purchase their own movable dwellings using funding from the Salvos, the Department of Health and Human Services and Bunnings.
“We spoke to these agents to break down barriers and stigma,” said Josh. “We explained that there are some good people in a bad situation and need a leg up.”
Thankfully, most of the team’s face-to-face interactions happened before COVID-19 impeded their work and, by August 2020, every resident who had asked for case management was assisted. This meant that the project wrapped up with 46 tenancies for long-term accommodation. Some were even offered jobs by Bunnings! And residents were followed up in later months to ensure they had all the supports necessary.
“At the start of this project, we really wanted to focus on each individual resident,” said Josh. “We wanted to ask, ‘What are your ambitions and goals. Do you want to learn new skills to get a job?’ There was a genuine sense that Bunnings wanted it to work for the community and that made our jobs easier.”
So, could the project be replicated elsewhere? Absolutely – and the Salvos Open Door team is hopeful that its work could be the baseline for another community.