Benjamin Julin and Michael Gregori are among the first people on the streets to use Hobart’s new Safe Night Space (ABC News: Alison Branley )
To speak to Benajmin Julin and Michael Gregori, it’s clear the quest for a good night’s sleep starts first thing in the morning.
- For those sleeping rough, it’s a race to be one of 17 who can stay in Hobart’s new Safe Night Space overnight
- The service has been such a success the Government has granted it a second round of funding
- There are more than 100 homeless people on Hobart’s streets and further services, especially in winter, are needed
Whether they’ve been sleeping in a tent around the inner city or huddled in a quiet alleyway, their first job is always to put their name down at Hobart’s new Safe Night Space.
“There’s only 17 spots so we try and get our name down early in the morning, so we don’t miss out on a spot,” Benajmin Julin said.
“If our name’s not on the list, we’re back out in the elements.”
The Safe Night Space opened in December in Hobart City Council’s Youth Arts and Recreation Centre building in Collins Street.
It’s a six-month pilot project funded through the State Government and community donations and run by the Salvation Army and Hobart City Mission.
In just four months, it has become a fixture among those sleeping rough in Hobart CBD, with visits by city stalwarts such as Loui’s Van for food and Orange Sky for washing.
Hobart City Mission chief executive John Stubley said they have already offered more than 500 bed nights and received more than 800 referrals.
It’s a startling figure for a city once known for having no homeless population.
“What we discovered [was] there was a high level of anxiety with the people who were presenting but knowing you’ve got a bed for the night alleviates a lot of the anxiety,” Mr Stubley said.
“The participants are starting to see the world through a different lens. They’re starting to look at the issues beyond and start looking at their future.
“I don’t think we expected to see the improvement in people’s mental health as much as we did.”
Challenges of gaining trust on the streets
Don McCrae from the Salvation Army said getting this type of service off the ground was not without its challenges, with many homeless people initially wary.
“In the early days we would see people pacing this room who weren’t comfortable to relax because it was so foreign,” Mr McCrae said.
“We’d see people who’d come round, just have a walk around inside, they’d stop and have a cup of coffee, have a chat and leave.
“They’d come back again and try it a couple of times and then stay.”
Now the Safe Night Space has become a centre where those without a bed share a cup of tea and camaraderie.
“Everybody helps everybody here. People make each other coffees in the morning to get each other up. There’s a bit of tomfoolery, joking around, always making each other smile,” Mr Gregori said.
“We just pull together, make each other happy that way when we leave, we all have a good day, we stay out of trouble. No one judges anyone — it is the epitome of a safe place.”
It’s the stability offered that Mr McCrae said is already turning around people’s circumstances, and in some cases, saving lives.
“People are actually starting to get involved with wanting to do rehab, with wanting to do detox, with engaging with families they may have been estranged from — we’re seeing all these amazing things that are happening,” he said.
“Someone actually said, ‘If it wasn’t for this place, I would have stepped off the bridge by now’, that’s heartening, to know that’s the impact you can actually have on someone’s life.”
It’s already making a difference to Mr Julin, who has been able to find work but still has nowhere to stay.
“I was sleeping in the tent, which just feels dirtier. I can actually keep clean in this place,” he said.
Shelter treats the symptoms but not the housing crisis
Ultimately, conversation turns back to the state’s housing crisis and the feeling that state and local governments are simply not doing enough.
Housing Minister Roger Jaensch announced a further $150,000 on Friday to allow the service to carry on through winter, but it will need a further $300,000 in donations to be able to make it to the end of the year.
“What’s clear to me, to us as government, is that it’s needed, it’s working and it needs to continue,” he said.
For people like Mr Gregori, it is little more than a token.
He would like to see the service expanded and far more done to help people like him get affordable housing.
“They need to be putting more money into infrastructure,” he said.
“It’s not much to invest in people in the country that they live in.”
Many people have been forced to live in tents because of the Tasmanian housing crisis (ABC News: Fiona Breen)
Like many, Hobart Lord Mayor Anna Reynolds is worried how the Safe Night Space will cope once the city’s frosty winter moves in.
There are only 17 spaces at the Safe Night Space and more than 120 homeless in the greater Hobart area.
“It is a big problem. This is one facility but maybe we need to look at other facilities, particularly when we face winter,” she said.
Mr Gregori said he expects the competition for the limited number of places will become more fierce.
“Come winter, you’re going to have to blow that phone up as soon as you wake up. Because if you don’t get in on time, it’s gone,” he said.