COMMUNITY GIFT – Hunter Homeless Connect

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This month the Complete Parts and @ The Coalface $500 Community Gift goes to Hunter Homeless Connect Inc., a volunteer, not-for-profit organisation, with a mission to create an inclusive environment without judgement and to facilitate a community response to homelessness in the Hunter region.

This connection is provided via the annual Hunter Homeless Connect Day event, Connecting the Hunter (Pay it Forward) program and via the regular distribution of their community services directory.

From a one-off event in 2009, Hunter Homeless Connect Day has become one of the Hunter’s major ways to connect people in need in the community with vital support services. Over the past 14 years, the event has grown exponentially, and 2023 was unprecedented in terms of attendance.

There were 130 services on the ground (plus approximately 1500 associated staff attending throughout the day), 60 volunteers on hand, multiple groups of students and local organisations visiting, and more than 1400 guests coming through the gates.

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Event co-ordinator, Home in Place events and partnerships manager Michelle Faithfull who has been coordinating the event since 2017, said she had never experienced numbers like it.

“Coming back in 2022 for the first time after the pandemic saw us slide back into the groove at the last minute, and we were a bit behind with timing, so numbers weren’t quite what we anticipated.

“However, one year on…throw in a significant housing crisis coupled with the cost-of-living skyrocketing, we broke all of our attendance records since the inception of the event back in 2009.

“This was no surprise to any of us in the sector.

“The level of need in the community right now is far exceeding what support services can cope with, and the high level of activity and interaction that was maintained throughout the day between services and people seeking support, is a stark reminder of the dire situation that many are finding themselves in right now.”

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Regular feedback from the event over the years has always been overwhelmingly positive with constant requests to hold more than one event each year in other locations.

This has never been possible due to limited resources and funding. However, as an alternative response to these requests, HHC created and trialled a new program which could not only facilitate access for people in need to services and support, all year ’round, but to also provide education about homelessness in the local region and ways that the community could tangibly respond to the issues associated with it.

Hunter Homeless Connect also took their community directory online during the pandemic in late 2020 and since then, it has become such a valuable resource to people seeking support, and to services referring people to other organisations. It has become the highest downloaded directory in Australia. They have also printed and distributed more than 25,000 hard copies of the directory throughout the region in that time.

Michelle said there was no other organisation in the Hunter that provided this particular line of service to the community.

“We are unique in this sense, and many vulnerable people and community services have now come to rely on us as an organisation, that provides connection, information and access to support services across the entire region. We rely entirely on community and grant funding.

“We’re currently seeking sponsorship for our 2024 Hunter Homeless Connect Day event and we have just launched a new corporate social responsibility initiative, a fundraising trek to the Bay of Fires in Tasmania.

“We have the potential to raise more than $70,000 with this once-in-a-lifetime adventure, and we are looking for two more sponsors (at $5k each) to help us with the management costs. Each sponsorship includes the opportunity to send a staff member along on the trek, which departs in November 2024.”

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