11 September 2018
On Wednesday morning, 5 September, The Salvation Army’s Melbourne 614 launched a report on its Concierge program and Lord Mayor Sally Capp officially opened a new community hub, that is supported by police, ambulance and paramedic personnel.
On Wednesday, 5 September, The Salvation Army’s Melbourne 614 launched a report on its Concierge program and Lord Mayor Sally Capp officially opened a new community hub, which is supported by police, ambulance and paramedic personnel.
Speakers included Aboriginal elder Shane Charles, who officiated the welcome to country and a smoking ceremony, Lord Mayor Capp, Victoria Police’s Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton, Ambulance Victoria CEO Professor Tony Walker, Major Brendan Nottle, and concierge staff members Chez and Rob.
TV and radio journalist Nick McCallum, as MC, shared a conversation with Major Nottle about homeless people. The major, Mr McCallum said, had told him ‘there are so many people living rough on the streets, who feel that nobody cares if they live or die – imagine how lonely that must be.’
Echoing those sentiments in his welcome to country, Mr Charles cited four traditional Indigenous values – respect, acceptance, relationships and responsibilities – and said ‘we are all here for a purpose; to help those in need. Welcome to today.’
Deputy Commissioner Patton said the new community hub provides a valuable opportunity ‘to work together and help people – The Salvation Army is the leader of this project’.
‘We are not just policing, enforcing, arresting,’ he added. ‘We are also here to do a range of referrals and give a highly visible police presence, to enhance safety in the city and help people. This hub will help people access support, services and advice in a timely manner, because when people are ready to seek assistance we must be in a position to provide it.’
The deputy commissioner said police officers will be located on-site at the hub, and emphasised that ‘the safety of all people, irrespective of where they sleep or what they do, is the responsibility of Victoria Police. This initiative will provide an inclusive model, underpinned by welfare services and safety.’
‘Ambulance Victoria sees the issues of homelessness every day,’ said Professor Walker. ‘It touches all of us, in all of our communities.
‘People who are homeless often use ER departments for health care, for conditions that could have been avoided with early care.’
Explaining that embedded ambulance staff would provide health assessments, confidential advice and referrals, and that 55 paramedic students would be on the streets on Friday and Saturday nights, the professor said the community hub would ‘improve the long-term health and well-being of the Victoria community’.
Lord Mayor Capp noted that business leaders, politicians, philanthropists, people who are homeless, emergency response staff and Salvation Army personnel were all present ‘to build a way forward that is both caring and practical’.
Speaking of her participation in the Melbourne ‘Street Count’ (counting the number of rough sleepers in five different Melbourne precincts), Lord Mayor Capp said she had spoken with a man named Arthur at the Salvos’ 614 cafe ‘who said he was a non-person’.
Arthur, she said, told her that he had ceased to exist to governments and welfare agencies, for all intents and purposes, after five years of sleeping rough.
‘What the Salvos’ community hub is going to do is help Arthur – who saw himself as a non-person – receive the help that he needs to re-integrate back in to our community,’ she said.
Noting ongoing local government advocacy to state and federal governments, on the subject of homelessness and the need for community housing, Lord Mayor Capp emphasised that ‘today is about what we can do, now – I trust that the success of the Salvos’ community hub will demonstrate compassion and care.’
‘Sometimes we think what we have done in the past will still work today,’ responded Major Nottle. ‘But there are times we have to jump, when we have an idea.’
With 500 people presenting daily to The Salvation Army at 614, many with complex needs and alarming physical and mental health issues, the major call on all present to ‘take risks and address problems’.
Major Nottle thanked all stakeholders and said ‘we need to make this work. Lord Mayor Sally Capp has been a breath of fresh air for this city, getting things done.’
Concierges Chez and Rob spoke powerfully of the differences the program had made in their lives, and musicians Olivia Smith and Captain Jason Davies-Kildea provided musical entertainment, along with contributions from bagpipers, drummers and Mr Charles on the didgeridoo.
The Concierge report, prepared by Jim Syrmas and Bill Healey, emphasised the impact that the ‘Concierges’ – formerly homeless people now trained and employed by The Salvation Army to engage with rough sleepers, passers-by and local businesses – have had since they commenced in November 2017.
Citing feedback from the City of Melbourne, the report notes that the concierges ‘have, in a short time, made a considerable difference to the city’s streets at night. They are able to speak to rough sleepers on the same level and can act as a positive role model, which is really important when dealing with vulnerable people.’