One of the major recipients of Ballina RSL’s latest round of ClubGRANTS is Mary’s Place, a drop-in centre and support service for homeless people and travellers in the area, supported by Vinnies.
Bryan Jamison is Team Leader at Mary’s Place, which has been open to everyone since November 2020. He says the facility offers a wide range of services.
‘We have hot food five days a week. We have showers, we have computer facilities. We have baggage storage facilities. We have a lovely big outdoor area where people can socialize and build some community connections,’ explained Mr Jamison.
He said that a wider range of outreach services were available on a fortnightly basis, including Legal Aid, Centrelink, and drug and alcohol counseling. ‘We also have priority access to a medical service in Ballina for patrons of Mary’s Place,’ he said. ‘And we have a community health dental program.’
Community partnerships, community hub
Bryan Jamison started working with Vinnies as the homeless outreach worker for the Northern Rivers in 2014, and spent several years working to establish Mary’s Place, which also benefits from ‘a whole series of partnerships with local community groups’, including donations from various local charity groups.
He told The Echo, ‘It’s always good to have some more hands on board. But we do have three Master of Social Work students who do their placements here, and 8-10 volunteers helping with cooking and cleaning and things like that. We’re well supported, although it would always be nice to get a bit more.’
Mary’s Place is open 8.30am-12.30pm each weekday, with more intensive case management and crisis support services available in the afternoon, usually by appointment.
‘We offer a pretty high quality service all the time for people who haven’t got very many places to go,’ said Mr Jamison. In terms of positive community impact, over 200 people come through Mary’s Place each week, and 500 hot meals a week are served. ‘Anybody is welcome to come here,’ he said.
COVID-19 has raised demand and pressure on support services.
‘Yes it’s been pretty full-on,’ said Mr Jamison. ‘Fortunately, Vinnies has got a very good set of protocols around managing the pandemic, quite a strict regime.’
Generous support from Ballina RSL
Bryan Jamison said it was ‘absolutely wonderful’ to have the support of ClubGRANTS for Mary’s Place arriving at the end of a difficult year. ‘This has been very generous on the part of Ballina RSL,’ he said.
Bill Coulter, CEO of Ballina RSL, told The Echo, ‘We get many requests for funding from the community and they are all worthy. The Mary’s Place application particularly stood out to us for a few reasons.
‘The application was for a permanent outdoor awning. This meant that during the bad weather we so often experience, those using the Mary’s Place services were unable to get out of the rain and the wind.
‘Sadly, COVID saw an increase in Ballina Shire residents needing to use the service more often,’ said Mr Coulter.
Bryan Jamison explained, ‘We’ve got quite a big area outside and at the moment we’ve got a couple of temporary gazebos up, which is fine, but we need something that’s going to be cooler in summer and a bit more effective in rainy weather.
‘Ballina RSL actually approached us via a community member after I’d expressed a desire to organise a permanent all-weather shade. I sat down and talked to them. They asked a lot about the organisation and I must have given the right answers, because they said they would fund us to the tune of $22,000, which is great!’ he said.
‘Ballina RSL are very well connected to the local community, they make a big effort to do so. So it’s a winning endorsement, really, from the local community, which we’re very happy with. We’re very grateful. It will be a really good augmentation to our service.’
Pending council approval, the new weather protection will be installed by contractor Trueline in December.
If you would like to know more about Mary’s Place, or volunteer, you can email: [email protected]
Mary’s Place can be found at the north end of Moon Street, Ballina, near Bangalow Road and Kentwell Community Centre.