Reconnecting and Rehabilitating

St Bartholomew’s House

In 1963, St Bartholomew’s House was a fledgling service operating out of a local church hall. Established to provide shelter for the homeless people of Perth and surrounding area, Saint Bartholomew’s House is based on a church and hospital in London of the same name. At the time, the organisation was one of the few crisis centres providing support for people living on the street, trying to rehabilitate them and give them a fresh start at life.

St Bartholomew’s House CEO, Lynne Evans, shares some of the organisation’s history: “Local television did a sort of exposé on local homelessness in Perth in 1965 and the House began getting a lot of new found support from local service clubs and support groups like Rotary of East Perth.” An injection of funds soon followed, as the government began supporting accommodation services.

“When I took over St Bart’s,” Lynne explains, “they had a budget of approximately $1.9 million, and at that time, the first Aged Care Services facility was built specifically for homeless people in Western Australia. The actual board had lobbied long and hard with both Federal and State governments, as people were ageing and it was hard to get care for them.” A small mental health accommodation service was also established by St Bart’s, an independent living program to assist people living in the community. The organisation also began exploring the diverse determinants of homelessness – such things as alcohol abuse and mental illness.

“We stuck to only having men near the beginning,” Lynne explains, “as they had a harder time dealing with issues and women had an overall easier time fitting in with a mainstream aged care facility. We’ve had a lot of support over time for what we are doing, and we ensure that the care is quite specialised. Most of the men do not have any family. Once we have them settled and feeling secure we try to reconnect them with their families.” Some families, unfortunately, are not interested in the reconnection process as some hurtful past behaviours prove too much to forgive. But at St Bart’s, it is believed that every person coming in deserves a brand new start.

“We have gotten a lot of support from the government, who is excited about the new Lime Street project which will have 40 beds when we move in,” says Lynne. “The Aged Care service is quite a unique one; we have 12 crisis beds, which is a little more than the standard, and as long as you have identification you are welcome. The local network sends people to Saint Bart’s, and once they are there we give them some time to get settled and we do expect them to engage in our programme. There is nothing stopping them from coming and going but it’s always about getting them better and getting them to address the reasons why they are homeless and helping them to want to make those changes.”

Lynne says passionately, “It’s about rebuilding and rehabilitating those people who are over 70… Building strong relationships is very important, as sometimes clients are coming in who are just over 50 years old and have prematurely aged and are having a difficult time accepting that. Some have alcohol-related Dementia or just physically are not well, and cannot live independently in our homeless hostel, so some have to be referred through to a programme that is funded for mental health care. People are certainly welcome to just walk in off the street, even with a mental illness, and they will be directed to the appropriate department for assessment.”

These days are quite bittersweet for Lynne, as she is retiring this year after being with the organisation since 1999. In this, her last year, the $34,000,000 Lime Street accommodation service she has been striving for and working so hard toward, is finally coming to fruition. It will be a very unique building, as many different people have contributed to it. “The Lime Street Project has taken seven years of hard work and negotiations,” she explains. “When you are struggling and trying to get contracts with the local redevelopment authority and the department of housing and builders so they can see that we do things transparently, it can be and has been very difficult. But this new state of the art building is for 148 people in need, plus it will serve as our corporate office.”

Lynne explains that St Bart’s has grown out of roots which boasted “lots of love and heart but [were] very tired,” with the design and appointment of the accommodations taking an understandable backseat to the services offered within. With Lime Street, however, “we have been very lucky to have a wonderful young architect, Kelly Radigan from Formworks, and a local building company called Northerly, in addition to having Apian Group as our project chain. We have learned so much during this project and our relationships with our partners have been fantastic. The journey has all been made better as we are all striving and working towards giving homeless people a better place to live. We were also lucky to have been able to secure a $750,000 grant for ecological sustainability measures, which will include some solar power resources, wind pods and storm water harvesting. This new building,” Lynne explains, “will have the same 54 homeless crisis and transition beds and 40 other aged care beds and will have 54 one bedroom units for both men and women for long term accommodation. Once this building is built, the same contractor will be set up to break down the old building as it will be a security issue, and build another in its place.”

St Bart’s, of course, does more than just provide shelter and crisis care; it offers a vast array of much-needed services. “It used to just be about providing welfare, but now it’s about supporting the older homeless and helping them break out of a vicious circle,” says Lynne. To achieve this, St Bart’s maintains quite a large corps of volunteers. “The East Perth Community scene has become very involved in St Bart’s, as they help with the socialisation of the clients, with recreational programmes, internet connectivity programmes to help reach out to loved ones, and a number of activities to keep the clients engaged. There are some walking groups and a maintenance programme involving looking after the St Bartholomew’s church and performing the landscaping at the grave sites. The East Perth Community also holds annual picnics and fundraisers at the end of every year, and enough money is raised to buy every St Bart’s client a Christmas present.”

St Bart’s enjoys an enduring and very positive reputation in the community. “Because of this reputation in the aged care area and in the mental health field, we do get a lot of referrals from hospitals and both federal and state governments. We have raised our profile considerably and now have a high profile foundation that will be there to help us try and raise $15,000,000 for the new Brown Street building replacement.”

“People Need People” has been a kind of motto at St Bart’s, which means the staff and volunteers focus not on some faceless idea of “the homeless”, but on the individual needing assistance with everyday life. Says Lynne, “We pride ourselves in being strong on quality and are continuously improving. We constantly communicate with the government on current issues while always keeping the client in the foreground, as their individuality is very important to us.”

The next endeavour for Lynne herself will be her work with the Perth City Farm, as she is now a part of their management committee. This is a place where people can give back to the earth in a positive way whilst reconnecting with nature themselves.

Lynne says she leaves St Bart’s with a very strong management team in place. “I have had the most fantastic send off and what I loved is that over the years, people have embraced the fact that I am totally wacky but realise I’ll get the job done.” And although Lynne’s peers and co-workers have great faith in her abilities to continue on to see many other projects come to the light of day, she has always seen the Lime Street Project as her “Swan Song” and can move on knowing that one of her dreams for St Bartholomew’s House has come true.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

November 21, 2018, 3:44 AM AEDT