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National first to tackle homelessness with ‘Viv’s Place’

September 02nd, 2022

The statistics paint a stark picture of the problem: in the Greater Dandenong council area in outer south-eastern Melbourne, there are almost 2,500 people at risk of homelessness. The area has the highest level of homelessness in the Victoria. Sitting behind the confronting data is a set of other problems, chief among them family violence, acknowledged as the leading cause of homelessness in the nation. And it is a national problem, being played out every day, across thousands of Australian communities.

Just a few weeks ago in Dandenong, a new initiative was unveiled that is designed to help make a difference. It’s called ‘Viv’s Place’, the nation’s first supported housing initiative for families. It was developed by Launch Housing, inspired by a long-standing affordable housing project in New York, and funded, in part, by philanthropy.

The new medium-rise building will consist of 60 designed and self-contained apartments that will provide accommodation for more than 60 women and 130 children who are living in difficult circumstances. What adds to this model are the communal kitchen, children’s play areas, offices, community gardens and a 24-hour concierge that provides security. In intent, Viv’s Place – named after Viv McCutcheon, a pioneering Melbourne social worker – will take a holistic approach by providing accommodation plus a range of support services.

The initiative was initially supported by donations from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, the Lord Mayor’s Charitable Foundation and Shine on Foundation, and followed by Gandel Foundation and The Ian Potter Foundation. There were other donors too, including Robin Friday and his extended family, who contributed $1.2 million from the sale of his family home in Box Hill.

Greater Dandenong Deputy Mayor Councillor Eden Foster acknowledged that there were particular vulnerabilities in her community, especially among some members of the CALD community. And the loss of retail and hospitality jobs through the pandemic added to the local housing problems, as many locals lost vital income that not only kept a roof over their heads but kept their families together. Now, Viv’s Place offers a new way to help support those who are not just in need of accommodation but the kind of wrap-around care that helps their families thrive.

“If we just look at the surface problem and don’t recognise underneath that there’s mental health issues, trauma, or family violence issues, then we’re not addressing the core issue and we’ll just repeat the cycle,’’ Cr Foster said. 

“This initiative is not just a place to live, but to be supported. It’s a one-stop shop.’’

Launch Housing partnered with Uniting Vic.Tas to provide support services that are culturally appropriate, and offer education, employment, health, wellbeing, parenting, counselling and trauma care for residents.

The Ian Potter Foundation also donated $2.5 million to the project. Foundation Chairman Charles Goode AC said: “The Board of The Ian Potter Foundation was impressed by key attributes of Launch Housing’s proposal for Viv’s Place. As an Australian first for a project of this scale – based on a proven international model including the provision of comprehensive wrap-around support services for women and their children escaping domestic violence – the proposal was outstanding.”

“Most significantly, Viv’s Place will demonstrate the social and economic value of permanent housing. While the need is much greater than this project can address, it is the Foundation’s hope that Viv’s Place will leverage further investment nationally to allow the replication of a model that more effectively addresses the risk of homelessness for many women and young children suffering domestic violence,” he said. 

Viv’s Place is inspired by a project developed and run by the New York-based Broadway Housing Communities that has for 30 years provided affordable permanent housing that has created communities at each of its sites, offering support and assistance to thousands of mothers and children. 

Launch Housing CEO, Bevan Warner said Viv’s Place would provide the safety and security women and children needed to rebuild their lives. “Poverty and family violence are constant pressures that push many women into the impossible position of raising a family without a stable home,” Mr Warner said.

“Solutions like Viv’s Place are critical to breaking the cycle of intergenerational homelessness and giving children a better start in life. At Viv’s Place, children are supported to attend school, maintain healthy relationships with family, friends and community, and lead a happy and healthy life.’’

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