The doors are open at St Vincent de Paul Society’s new drop-in centre in Ballina, servicing a population with one of the highest homelessness rates in regional NSW.
Named Mary’s Place, in honour of Aileen Mary Delaney who made a generous bequest to Vinnies, the service is located on the corner of Treelands Crescent and Moon Street, Ballina.
Mary’s Place is set up to provide light refreshments, showering facilities, outdoor space for socialising, computer access, medical and nursing care, Centrelink engagement service, legal and housing support, and psychological and counselling services.
The free service will be open on weekdays between 8.30am and 12.30pm, with outreach services also operating each afternoon to help those who drop by, providing more in-depth casework.
Harmony House next door
Adjacent to Mary’s Place, but independently accessed, is Harmony House, a three-bedroom service providing accommodation for residents transitioning back into community living after facing major challenges that may have included homelessness. Harmony House retains its original name but has been fully refurbished and upgraded.
Niamh Mannion, Executive Director Vinnies Services, said ‘Research shows that Ballina experiences significant levels of disadvantage compared to NSW generally in terms of income, education and employment opportunities.
‘The latest census revealed more than 500 people in the Ballina LGA were either homeless or at risk of experiencing homelessness. Mary’s Place is the first and only such service in this fast growing and generally affluent coastal town, and we are proud to have the strong support of the community,’ she said.
‘Ballina Shire Council has been behind the project from the start, as has Ballina MP Tamara Smith, and local service clubs and businesses.
‘It has been a wonderful community endeavour, with everyone recognising the need for a service of this kind.
‘Living rough is a terrible experience, exposing people to violence, robbery, sexual assault and a loss of personal dignity that is hard to recover from.
‘Vinnies has a long history of supporting vulnerable community members, and this service is well placed to undertake some wonderful work,’ said Ms Mannion.
Demand rising everywhere
Mary’s Place is the latest drop-in service run by Vinnies for disadvantaged people on the Far North Coast of NSW, following the successful establishment of Fred’s Place in Tweed Heads and Pete’s Place in Coffs Harbour.
Both of these services are now seeing up to 90 people each day, with visitor numbers growing because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Team Leader Bryan Jamison said Mary’s Place has volunteering opportunities for suitable local people and invites anyone interested to contact him on 0457 896 407.