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Project employs, houses homeless

Approximately 65 people attended a national inaugural Project New Dawn (PND) *celebration event at The Salvation Army’s Melbourne 614 premises at 69 Bourke Street in early May. The delegates, from The Salvation Army and BP Australia, travelled from Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Newcastle and Perth.

The meeting was an opportunity to share information on the state of PND, which is now in its fourth year of operation. The project gives up to 18 months employment and accommodation to participants, with some continuing on in employment thereafter. The experience provides people with interview skills, fixed income and address, retail customer service and increased self-confidence and self-esteem.

Lieut-Colonel Ian Hamilton, the Australia Southern territorial secretary for program, acknowledged the presence of partners and PND participants. He thanked and congratulated BP, and paid tribute to the vision of PND co-founder and former BP employee Albert Li, who was struck by the concept as he walked past a homeless man each day as he was en route to work.

‘Albert’s enthusiasm and passion led him to The Salvation Army, and we received his project idea very keenly,’ Ian said. ‘Homeless people deserve whatever we can do to support them [and help to] dismantle the barriers that prevent them from getting back on their feet.’

Julie Gibson, BP training manager, responded, acknowledging PND is predicated on the fact that homelessness is ‘a Catch 22 – if you don’t have a residence then you can’t get a job; and you can’t get a job if you don’t have a home.

‘This project has also helped BP staff and managers to see different aspects of life,’ she added. This is a win-win for us, and Steve, one of our first participants, is still with BP today.’

Trevor Wulf, a PND participant, spoke of having previously had ‘a problem with gambling and alcohol; I was sleeping in the park at Fitzroy Gardens with nowhere to go’.

Assaulted, depressed and close to taking his own life, Trevor says ‘I’d just about given up. I was a bit of a mess and I knew I needed help’.

‘A recovery church meeting in April 2010 helped change my life. Then, with Project New Dawn, they got me a place to love and got me a job. When you are homeless, without a fixed address, it’s very hard to get ahead.

‘I had to stand on my own two feet, but I needed help to do it. I don’t know where I’d be without BP and the Salvos.’

Thanking BP for being ‘very patient with me’, Trevor noted he’d now been employed for ‘two years this June, and I’m so happy it’s not funny!’

Trevor shares that happiness by volunteering each week with the Army’s Melbourne 614 outreach van, passing out blankets, food and hot drinks to homeless people.

Albert Li, talking to e-connect, said that initially PND was ‘just an idea, but now, to see Trevor… it’s just amazing, the impact of it all.’

Albert confirmed that 40 people have been enrolled in PND to date, with people achieving various degrees of ‘success’, the ultimate success being to go through the whole 18 months of program (something that approximately 40% of participants achieve).

Regardless of the length of time they participate, however, Albert says the men and women who take part in PND ‘are all winners’.

Salvationists and Salvation Army staff serve as lead tenants in the accommodation of ‘New Dawners’, supporting and encouraging the participants who also often form links with their local Salvation Army corps. The lead tenants are a presence in the house, providing good company and a positive role model.

BP rents the houses from the private rental market, and underwrites the rent if one of the PND participants leaves the program early. The multinational conglomerate covers any gaps in rental payments until another suitable PND participant is found, ensuring there is no additional demand on Salvation Army resources. The end goal is to encourage philanthropists and corporate entities, etc., to purchase houses and make them available for use in the PND program.

The first house commenced in 2008; there are currently six houses, two in Melbourne and one in the other participating cities. The project aims to run up to 40 properties nationally, giving up to 80 homeless people the opportunity to participate at any one time.

Noting that there is only one PND ‘female’ house in Australia at this stage, Melbourne 614 corps officer Major Brendan Nottle attributed the gender imbalance to the fact that ‘female homelessness is much more hidden than male homelessness’.

* Project New Dawn is a corporate partnership that takes long-term unemployed, homeless persons and accommodates, trains and employs participants as console operators in BP service stations. Other corporate partners include or have included: Radio Rentals, Ian Reid Real Estate, and GA Thomsons Real Estate.