In the late 1990s and early 2000s when homelessness was an unavoidable issue for the members of the St Mary’s Community in South Brisbane, Micah Projects was born.
“You’d never know now, but back then there were people living around that church, like 40 or 50 people at a time,” says Micah Projects coordinator Karyn Walsh. “For people who attended church there, you literally could be walking around homeless people. Many of them came into the community and we got to know them.”
The members of St Mary’s responded by setting up Micah Projects, an independent not-for-profit organisation with the aim of advocating for and providing services to vulnerable people in the community.
Headquartered on Boundary Street in West End, their 140 staff and 50 volunteers now provide a wide range of services and support to people all over Brisbane. The projects include Butterfly Place and Caterpillar House in West End which provide assistance to young mothers, Lotus Place in South Brisbane which is a dedicated support service for Forgotten Australians and the Brisbane Homelessness Service Centre in South Brisbane which they run in partnership with a number of other organisations.
Starting out with just $10,000 and 10 per cent of the church’s collection, Karyn says that they were lucky to be in the right place at the right time when the government started to invest more in the community services sector. “At the time we didn’t think there would ever be more money, but then with the boom in the economy, more money, and more government services started being outsourced.”
These days the majority of their funding comes from government and is boosted by donations from individuals and sponsorship from private business. One of the biggest projects that Micah has been involved with in recent times is Brisbane Common Ground, a unique affordable housing initiative on Hope Street in South Brisbane, which opened earlier this year. Half of the building’s 146 units have been provided to people who were formerly homeless, while the other half has been set aside for people on low income.
“It’s different because it’s one of the first blocks of units that’s been designed to have onsite services,” says Karyn. “The idea is not only just the services that we provide, but also visiting services, whether that’s medical or lifestyle support or education and employment. Part of the service we provide there is a concierge, and a sort of 24-hour tenants service where people can get immediate assistance for small crises … just helping the building remain safe, management of visitors, any sort of small crises that can easily become a big thing for someone overnight; there’s assistance that can help with that.”
Karyn says that as an outreach service, they found that many people were stuck on the streets for long periods, sometimes up to 15 years. “We watched people die on the streets, we watched their children end up on the streets, so we really wanted something that could help break the cycle for the very vulnerable.”
Words by Leah Carri | Images by Stayc Connolly