Listen: CEO and Co-founder of Dignity, Suzanne Hopman, chats to Open House
A new service in NSW is adopting a “housing first” approach to serving the homeless. Dignity aims to help the hidden homeless: those who go to great lengths to keep their homelessness a secret in order to protect their children.
The charity can provide a meal, a hot shower, clean sheets and a warm bed to more than 200 men, women and children every night. Their approach is to provide as close to a home-stay experience as possible for those experiencing sudden homelessness. With a safe, warm, respectful place to stay their clients’ needs are then assessed with Dignity’s staff and volunteers walking with them to find permanent solutions for what are often complicated circumstances.
Founded by a small group of people who put their own money into the cause, Dignity Ltd is a not for profit registered charity founded just two years ago. Already they are getting attention for the outstanding work they do. This year they are finalists in the Telstra Business Awards for the charity category. It is a big leap for an idea that came out of the shared belief of a group of friends that support for the homeless could work better.
Update: Dignity has been named Telstra Australian Business of the Year for 2019 at a Gala Dinner on Thursday, November 21.
Ran For Her Life With Babe in Arms
Dignity’s CEO and co-founder, Suzanne Hopman, sees heartbreaking cases every day. She recounted to Stephen O’Doherty on Open House the desperation of one mother who fled her home, terrified. She ran out carrying her five-day-old baby and nothing else.
“She had just come home after giving birth. Her husband got very upset with the baby crying all the time and said: “If you don’t make that baby quiet I will kill you both!”. She came with absolutely nothing. She ran out of the house with the baby and just what she was wearing. She had no doubt he would have carried out that threat. She went to the police and they put her in touch with us through Link2home,” said Suzanne.
Suzanne says many stereotypes of homelessness are wrong and just as that newborn was their youngest ever resident it is something that can happen to any one, at any age.
“Last week we had a ninety-year-old man come into us who had worked hard his whole life and owned his own home outright. His wife had died a few years ago. His adult son had struggled .. [and had] a relationship breakdown. His son wanted to start a business. So he had taken a loan out on the house and lent his son the money.
“Twelve months later the son had lost all of the money and he was evicted from the house. … [He was] not in great health but not enough to be hospitalised or in a nursing home. He just wanted a place to call his own, having lost the home he had lived in all that time, … If we hadn’t been there to journey with him …. you can only imagine how difficult it would have been for him,” explained Suzanne Hopman.
Fear of Child Removal
There are many people in a category Suzanne Hopman describes as the hidden homeless. They include parents frightened authorities will remove their children if it becomes known they have lost their home. They go to great lengths to hide their homelessness. One such mother stayed awake all night to watch over her children as they slept on trains. She used public toilets to wash the children and their clothes. She took them to school every day, all the time hiding the real situation.
Oz Harvest donates food to Dignity Ltd and a team of volunteers make nutritious meals for the people staying at the Dignity Ltd homes. If you would like to volunteer to help Dignity Ltd you can contact them via their Facebook page which is @DignityLtd or call 1300 332 334. If you are homeless and need help call Link2home on 1800 152 152. If you are able to donate, Dignity is a registered, tax-deductible charity. There is a donation button on their website which is dignity.org.au
Suzanne Hopman told Stephen O’Doherty they are looking for a major sponsor so they can roll out more accommodation. Suzanne says Dignity Ltd could open a new house if a company or individual could donate the $30,000 cost.
If you are homeless in NSW and need their help, contact Dignity Ltd via the Link2home service. Link2home is a NSW government service providing information, assessment and referral to specialist homelessness services, temporary accommodation and other appropriate services for people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. The number for Link2home is 1800 152 152. It is a seven-days-a-week, 24-hours-a-day service. If you are outside NSW see the resources available in your state on the Homelessness Australia website here.
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