Gethsemane Community Inc works with a range of groups who have similar goals to care for homeless people.
Myree Harris RSJ became a Board member of Churches Community Housing in 1998, which split in 2009 to become Ecclesia Housing (a Community Housing provider) and Churches Housing Inc. (a peak body working with Churches). She remained on both Boards until Ecclesia Housing merged with Amélie Housing. Myree left the Board of Churches Housing Inc in 2016 but remains an Honorary Life member.
Amelie Housing now manages the lease of Gethsemane Community Inc. It maintains the landlord function and Gethsemane is a support partner, supporting the needs of residents.
Coalition for Appropriate Supported Accommodation (CASA)
CASA involves a number of groups with common goals. Myree Harris rsj was one of the four founders of CASA in 1995. She has convened the coalition ever since. CASA meets monthly and focuses on advocacy. From the beginning, the chief focus was working to assist residents of licensed boarding houses.
In 1997, there were 140 licensed boarding houses in NSW with 2,186 beds. In 1998, through systemic advocacy, the State Labor Government released a $66M Boarding House Reform Program. This moved 150 of the highest level needs residents out of the sector into 24hr supported accommodation provided by Non-Government organisations. Funding was also provided to assist those who remained in boarding houses:
- Home Care: Provided personal care services for those who needed it
- Active Linking Initiative: Helped residents develop their skills and become involved in community activities
- There was also funding for primary and secondary health
The Boarding House Expert Advisory Group was set up to advise on the implementation of the Reform program. Myree Harris RSJ, Rev Harry Herbert from Uniting Care NSW Act and another CASA member were among the first to be appointed. Now there are four CASA members on the group.
Regular monitoring by the Licensing team from Ageing and Disability began to have an effect and boarding houses closed. With the development of a screening tool, high level needs people were not able to go into the system. The development of a Closure Protocol meant that following a closure, residents were assessed for their housing and support needs, and either went into aged care, to new group homes or received support to enable them to live independently. By 2019 there were only 18 Assisted Boarding Boarding Houses with less than 300 residents.
CASA has lobbied consistently since 1995 for new legislation to protect these most vulnerable people. On 23rd October 2012, Hon Andrew Constance announced that the Boarding Houses Bill 2012 had passed through the Upper House. It was implemented on 1st January 2013, and will also protect residents of what has been known as the ‘unlicensed sector’, these are the poorest, most needy and vulnerable of all. Councils can monitor conditions of Boarding Houses and impose fines for misconduct. Residents also have the protection of written occupancy agreements, which prevents summary evictions.
In 2019, there was a Statutory Review of the Boarding Houses Act. The results of this review have not yet been released.
St Patrick’s Church Hill
The oldest Catholic Church in Australia and a ministry of Marist Fathers who are the greatest supporters of Gethsemane Community. St Patrick’s was Mary MacKillop’s parish for some years, she worked closely with them to assist the very poor in The Rocks area of Sydney. The parish is one of Gethsemane’s very few regular donors, making monthly donations to assist us which is greatly appreciated.
St Patrick’s has for many years adopted our Christmas Project. For years, Sr Myree has spoken at Sunday Masses at St Pat’s on the first Sunday of Advent, explaining how the project assists many lonely, poor and vulnerable people to have a happier Christmas. More recently, some members of the executive have supported her in this role. Parishioners are invited to place donations in a box set aside for this purpose and to take a label to put on the envelope of a Christmas card. About 6,000 Christmas cards are sent by people who attend Mass there. St Patrick’s Church has focused its appeal throughout Advent on our Christmas project. A great deal of the funds for the project come from their parishioners.
Other Supporters of the Christmas Project:
Seven schools collect items, pack and deliver Christmas presents to boarding houses or aged care facilities:
- Corpus Christi Primary School, St Ives
- Mount St Joseph, Milperra
- St Therese Catholic Primary School, Mascot
- St Brigid’s Primary School, Marrickville
- Chevalier College, Bowral
- Christian Brothers’ High School, Lewisham, Upper primary classes
- Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Primary School, Randwick
Most of the schools have been involved for many years with 20 other schools collecting and donating toiletries or socks for Gethsemane to put in the Christmas parcels.
Individuals and other groups
Maura, a former student of Myree, now organises a version of the Christmas Project in the Wollongong area. She makes up and and distributes hundreds of gift packs to women’s refuges and to homeless people.
Catholic Education Office, Wollongong
Takes 4500 Christmas Card labels for schools in their diocese and organises for cards to be sent. CEO Wollongong has covered the cost of printing all Christmas card labels for a number of years.
Exercise, Prescription and Physiotherapy at Burwood
Greg and Robyn, their staff and clients donate festive food. Clients also donate money so Greg can buy and deliver hams to seven licensed boarding houses in the Inner West of Sydney.
Sunday Congregation at Canisius College, Pymble
Coordinated by Anne, members contribute festive food items and cash.
The Sisters of St Joseph, residents at Marian Court Strathfield and residents at the MacKillop Grange Retirement Village at Mosman all donate money, toiletries and small tins of food for hampers.
Associations we work with or Agencies concerned with similar issues of justice in Australia
- Directory of housing associations provides information of state housing.
- The Matthew Talbot Hostel in Sydney is the largest hostel for homeless men in the southern hemisphere is a work of the St Vincent de Paul Society.
- Edmund Rice Centre is involved in a range of projects and activities across the four areas of its operation in research, community education, advocacy and networking. It supports awareness, understanding and action in the areas of justice and community issues.
- House of Welcome is independent of Government and relies entirely on the support of Churches and the Community: It supports asylum seekers and refugees.
- The Black Dog Institute is a world leader in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder