Happy Birthday to HOME
A fifth birthday was celebrated this week, and as with most birthdays there was cake, there was laughter, and there was a joyous crowd of more than 50 to sing that song.
Unlike most birthdays though, this was not a birthday for an individual. This was a birthday for a community; a community within a community, HOME in Queanbeyan.
HOME, which opened five years ago this week, is a community initiative providing a safe environment where nineteen men and women with enduring mental illness who cannot live independently, or may be at risk of homelessness can feel secure.
And HOME is indeed within the Queanbeyan community because it would not exist without the love and support of Queanbeyan community members who worked tirelessly for its establishment.
The seed was planted as far back as 2004, in the mind of local Catholic priest, Father Peter Day.
“Around 2004 it happened at the church at St Raphael’s at Queanbeyan,” Fr Day said.
“I was having a weekly meditation we used to do on Thursday nights, and the dream, or vision, of HOME came to me in the last 20 minutes.”
Fr Day says the idea just came to him. “It wasn’t anything ‘spooky’”, he said.
But it was an idea that “would not go away”.
“That was about 2004, and it kept coming back to me, and then in 2005 during the Saturday night Vigil Mass I presented a homily and basically enunciated the vision, and that’s when Tony Carey, who was our founding chair, came up to me and said ‘I don’t know anything about mental health but I am a businessman and I want to help with the plan’,” Fr Day said.
And the businessman, Tony Carey was as good as his word. And while Mr Carey can rattle through every aspect of his involvement writing business plans and budgets, he says HOME was the work of “a lot of talented people”.
“There was a lot of bringing together of a lot of talented people that helped us achieve Peter’s vision, and a lot of support from government as well.
“A large amount of the funding for the construction came from both the Commonwealth and NSW governments which enabled us to then use a lot of the community funding to get the project up and running, and then maintain it on a sustainable basis,” Mr Carey said.
One of the many reasons Mr Carey, who became HOME’s founding Chairperson, believes HOME found such support in the community is that so many families are touched by mental illness.
“When Father Peter first started to talk of his vision for HOME it struck a chord with people, for a couple of reasons. One is that many people have experienced themselves, or have family-members who experience enduring mental illness in one form or another so there was a real tangible appreciation of the issue,” he said.
In providing a safe and supportive place for vulnerable people, Queanbeyan is leading the nation.
“Well we are,” Tony Carey said. “And we’ve had evidence of that with a number of other groups who’ve come to us to see how we do it at HOME, and to try to replicate that. “Unfortunately that hasn’t yet come to fruition anywhere else, and I think that is because Queanbeyan is a unique community. Whilst it is next to Canberra it is a community in its own right and that was demonstrated in the support for HOME both in its construction and post-construction,” he said.
Current Chairperson of HOME in Queanbeyan, Michael Mallon agrees and says while credit for the success rightly rests with the community, part must go to high-profile supporters such as HOME Patron, Sir William Deane.
“We’re very thankful to Sir William Deane for getting involved … it would have been a lot tougher without his involvement”.
While unable to attend the celebrations, Sir William said the support offered by HOME “is an absolute must” and applauded the work of “an outstanding board (and) an extraordinarily selfless Queanbeyan community”.
“The provision of long-term, supported accommodation for the chronically mentally ill who are presently unable to live with the basic dignity to which every human being is entitled is not simply a “good idea”. It is an absolute must,” Sir William said.
Chairperson Mallon said that the acid test, five years down the track, was seeing the benefits that have flowed not only to residents but to Board members and volunteers.
To say the birthday is ‘very exciting’ is, for Mr Mallon, “probably an understatement”.
“To see the benefits people have got, both in terms of residents and people who have been involved on the Board as what volunteers have got out of being involved in HOME has been really great to see,” he said
Mr Mallon believes HOME’s success, that HOME has thrived in its first five years is a credit to its hometown.
“I think it’s a big sign of the amount of caring people that were involved in getting this up and running initially. “The fact that Queanbeyan has been able to take a lead on something like that is a great reflection on Queanbeyan,” he said.
Mick Burgess, who did the landscaping at HOME, says the ongoing work of HOME’s manager, Anne Pratt and staff and volunteers was giving Queanbeyan its “soul”.
“The efforts of all at HOME in creating a “heart” for Queanbeyan deserves a great big thank you.
“I don’t think these beautiful people realise now the significance of a legacy that will be appreciated for many decades to come,” he said.
One beneficiary of Queanbeyan’s hard work and support is HOME in Queanbeyan resident, Lyshane, who has been part of the HOME community since “the very beginning”.
“I was maybe the second or third one here,” she said.
And being a part of HOME means not only a loving environment, but a safe one.
“It means a lot to me because I couldn’t manage the stairs in my place. I had to live upstairs and I fell down 13 stairs,” she said.
“This is my second home. It feels very safe, very secure here.”
For Fr Peter Day that is the bottom line.
“When people ask what’s your Model of Care? Well, you love people. How do you thrive?
“The ‘Model’ will be relevant in 10,000 years time. “People need people, and they need to know they’re safe, loved and cared for. It’s as simple as that.”
“That’s what we wanted to create, a place that is home,” he said.
HOME receives no recurrent government funding and relies totally on the generosity of the community.
HOME in Queanbeyan is having its fifth movie-night fundraiser at The Q Theatre on Friday 21, August thanks to Audi Centre Canberra, Mallon Family Businesses and SJD Design.
Tickets for $70 including drinks, food and entry to the movie are available at www.theq.net.au or from The Q Box Office on 02 6285 6290.
The writer, Geoff Bagnall has been a resident at HOME in Queanbeyan since 2011