My Voice: Cathy Humphrey

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Cathy Humphrey is the new CEO at St Kilda’s Sacred Heart Mission.

I’VE worked at Sacred Heart Mission for more than 10 years and have worked as general manager for aged care, women’s services and our Queens Road community house. But I have been working in the community welfare sector for more than 20 years.

I was always driven by an interest in people and human rights, so after having worked in public service for six years I went to uni and found my calling when I started studying community welfare. When I started at the mission in 2002, I realised I had become part of an organisation that was really doing something to help people in need – those who are sleeping homeless in St Kilda every night as well as those struggling in sub-standard and unstable accommodation. I feel privileged to be part of an organisation that is so tireless in the way it pursues solutions to ending homelessness.

Our Journey to Social Inclusion pilot is a great example. It’s a $3.6 million project funded mainly by philanthropists. It helps break the cycle of chronic homelessness by providing intensive, long-term support over three years with rapid access to housing, responding to participants’ specific mental health needs and focusing on building their skills to reconnect with the community – including employment.

The program is in its final year, and it’s had a lot of success. One success story was Sam, who has graduated from the program early, with a move into paid employment providing the catalyst for his independence and move away from the service system.

I’m really proud of this, and the fact we’ve been able to help people break through the long-term problems that lead them to sleeping rough time and again.

Sacred Heart Mission offers free breakfasts and lunches five days a week. Those who come along for meals are experiencing poverty, homelessness and a range of complex and unmet needs. We are in a unique position of being in contact with a large volume of people through our drop-in services, as we’re providing 150 breakfasts and about 350 lunches each day. As a result, we’ve become really close with those who come through our doors. Because of these strong relationships, our support workers are able to build trust and help make changes in lives.

Every morning when I arrive at work at our Grey Street premises, I come across people sleeping on the verandah. I am often asked what we are doing about people sleeping outside the mission, why they can’t access somewhere to stay, and whether or not it is safe. This is a constant tension. With the lack of affordable housing, it’s challenging to find long-term safe and stable accommodation for everyone who needs it. For some people this means they will sleep outside when there aren’t any options.

To end homelessness in people’s lives, long-term safe and affordable housing is fundamental. It takes a home to give people a place to feel safe and feel like they belong to a community. A space to live with dignity, privacy, and that is free from violence, gives people the stability to find a job and truly flourish.

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