By Jordan Grantham, Catholic Outlook, December 2016
The largest transitional housing provider in New South Wales will lease expanded premises for its headquarters from the Diocese of Parramatta, starting in February 2017.
The House of Welcome is a work of St Francis Social Services, operated by the Franciscan Friars (order of Friars Minor). It began as a project of the NSW Ecumenical Council in 2002 with the provision of emergency accommodation for refugees on temporary protection visas.
In 2003, the Franciscan Friars bought and refurbished a drop-in centre at Carramar co-ordinated by Fr Jim Carty SM. The centre received no government funding and was supported by Church groups, including the Diocese of Parramatta.
Holy Family Parish at East Granville and the Diocese of Parramatta made the offer to lease 199 The Trongate, a former convent of the Sisters of St Joseph.
Lyn Harrison is the CEO of St Francis Social Services. “The difference this will make to our ability to provide support to asylum seekers and refugees is unimaginable,” Lyn said.
“We are delighted that the community of Holy Family Parish is welcoming us and we look forward to working with the community of Granville.”
The new centre for the House of Welcome will provide caseworkers, visa assistance, material support, skills development courses and community connection programs.
There are 23 properties given to the House of Welcome to accommodate asylum seekers and refugees. Some of these properties are in the Diocese of Parramatta.
“I am thrilled with this new opportunity for the House of Welcome,” Lyn said. “We have worked for more than 15 years in cramped shared office space in Carramar.
“This leasing agreement provides us with the opportunity to grow our services for people in need exponentially.”
Advocacy is part of the House of Welcome’s mission and will be expanded in the larger facilities. The House of Welcome is independent of government funding and will take advantage of this independence to advocate for asylum seekers.
Recent government policy changes will see a number of people seeking asylum denied access to Medicare and Centrelink, which the House of Welcome will respond to.
“The need for the services we can provide has never been greater,” Lyn said. “We will grow our services to reach more of the demand being created by government changes.”
Nine staff are employed. In the spirit of the House of Welcome, staff make a point of individually greeting and welcoming newcomers to the centre.
The building provides 12 offices, which can be used for counselling and casework sessions. “Our team is currently juggling with only one casework room, so that difference alone will be tremendous,” Lyn said.
“The premises will also allow more space for community gatherings. We offer weekly luncheons to foster a sense of welcome and belonging and these will be able to grow.”
The facility provides space to offer English lessons in a room without interruption and the opportunity to hold advocacy meetings and debriefs with volunteers.
More than 100 volunteers assist the House of Welcome, though more are always needed.
The former chapel will become a community room for gatherings. The cathedral ceiling gives the room a great ambience. Nearby is a small courtyard that will be a pleasant space for visitors, when renovated and cleaned.
The House of Welcome is urgently in need of support to make the new premises ready to receive clients.
St Francis Social Services will be raising funds and seeking volunteers who can assist with maintenance projects, kitchen installation, carpeting, painting, etc.
To make a contribution to ensure this service can reach more people in need, tel (02) 9727 9290 or click here.