Growing up, Andy never imagined he would move out of his parents’ home. As one of an estimated 80 Australians living with the rare physical disability Morquio, Andy uses a wheelchair for mobility and has a range of physical characteristics that can make daily tasks difficult to manage. Now, with the help of Evolve Housing, Andy is living independently for the first time in his life, in a state-of-the-art, $2.3 million accommodation complex in Parramatta.
Like an estimated 28,000 other Australians with disability, Andy was held back in his quest to be fully independent by one major barrier – a shortage of appropriate accommodation.
Because his family home was not wheelchair accessible, many of Andy’s friends were unable to visit, and he was prevented from doing basic tasks such as cooking on his own.
Thanks to a partnership between disability service provider Northcott and Evolve, Andy now has a new place he calls home. He has his own apartment in a modern, universally accessible North Parramatta complex, made possible by the Australian Government’s $60 million Supported Accommodation Innovation Fund.
“Living here has given me a new lease on life,” Andy said. “My life has improved in just being able to catch up with mates, and not having to always rely on my parents for help getting to places. I’m also closer to work [as an Information Technology officer] which makes things easier.”
Andy is now able to socialise with his friends more, cook for himself, hang out his own washing, and generally take care of himself, improving his confidence and giving him the independence he sought.
“Not having to rely on my parents was a big thing,” Andy said. “Where I lived [before] wasn’t wheelchair accessible so I was always having to rely on someone around to help me. The kitchen wasn’t accessible so I couldn’t cook for myself.”
Since moving into his new accommodation, which features a small courtyard, Andy has been able to have his friends over more. “There’s enough room to fit a barbecue. I love to entertain when I’ve got mates over – to cook a steak while they’re inside screaming at the TV because their team is either winning or not doing so well,” he said.
“It took me a while to learn how not to make things charcoal, but I got there after a couple of months and things became edible!”
Unsurprisingly, Andy’s relationship with his parents and sister has improved drastically in the two and a half years he has been living on his own. “I’m getting on a lot better with my parents since I moved out of home,” he said. “Mum’s there for me: I can call her if I need cooking advice, without her having to take over for me. Dad also works close by so if I ever need help he can come over after work. I’m getting on a lot better with my sister now that we don’t see each other on a daily basis.”
Despite the extra obstacles Andy faces, he has chosen not to let his disability stop him from living life like most other young men his age. Andy has tattoos, likes hanging out with his mates, is a diehard fan of the Western Sydney Wanderers FC, and even captains its Powerchair Team.
“The greatest achievement for me so far, aside from moving in here and gaining much more independence, would be wheelchair sports and playing Powerchair football for the Wanderers,” he said. “We just won our first championship, which has been huge for us and something I’m really proud of. We’ve got the World Cup coming up next year in Florida and hopefully on the back of what we’ve done this season we can push to get selected for the Australian team.”
For Andy, the future is bright. “I’m really looking forward to what the future holds,” he said. “This place has really broadened my horizons and shown me what I can do independently. I’d love to maybe get a bigger house later and really grow from there.”
Unemployed and suffering from anxiety, it was only through the help and support of Evolve Housing programs that Anita was able to turn her life around. Now in a stable position, with a job and a permanent roof over her head, Anita is able to start moving her life forward.
Anita had returned to Sydney after a relationship breakdown and wasn’t able to find a stable place to call home. She suffered from acute anxiety and struggled to even go outside.
For a long period of time she was couchsurfing and moving around each day to find a bed for the night. Thankfully that all changed when she was linked with Evolve and allocated an apartment of her own.
“I got the call from Evolve and I was so glad to have my own little place. With the security of my own home, I couldn’t be happier.”
After settling into her home in Western Sydney, Anita received her first Evolve Housing resident newsletter and read about the barista training course run in partnership by Evolve and Darcy St Project.
While she had a few initial hurdles battling her anxiety to make it to the start of the course, once she was there Anita was hooked. She completed the four week Certificate 1 Barista training course, which included a mixture of theory and practical work experience in the Darcy St Project café.
Anita said: “I took advantage of all the work experience that was on offer, asked a lot of questions, and really enjoyed the learning experience. There is so much to learn and I keep learning every day, which I love.”
Anita passed through the Barista course with flying colours and developed a passion for her work. Due to her skills and dedication Anita was offered a paid position as a barista by Darcy St Project and has been employed there since December 2016. After completing her training and now that she is permanently employed, Anita’s life has definitely changed for the better.
John Cafferatta, owner of Darcy St Project, said that he is proud of the partnership with Evolve; the opportunity to connect with residents and teach them new skills and employment pathways. John said Anita is an asset to Darcy St Project. “She has fit into our culture and values brilliantly. Everyone brings their own type of swag and personality to the table which has been a great value-add for us at Darcy St Project,” he said.
Anita credits Evolve with providing her with the skills to do a job that makes her happy. “I love being here, I’ve really found what I love and what I want to do forever. I would like to teach eventually. I really enjoy that and I want to give back everything I got out of this course.”
At just 23 Betty has experienced more ups and downs than any young person should. Betty’s remarkable story highlights the importance of providing stable, secure and safe accommodation as a starting point for people to rebuild their lives. Secure housing through Evolve Housing for Youth (EHY), combined with wrap-around support and Betty’s incredible self-determination, has helped her break the cycle of homelessness.
At 16 Betty dropped out of high school. With no support network to fall back on she spent the next few years couchsurfing, and living in and out of refuges; sometimes in dangerous places because she didn’t know where else to go.
When she was 18 Betty made the brave decision to go back and finish year 10. Back at school she was connected with EHY. She met with one of the caseworkers and moved into an EHY property. Having a permanent roof over her head was the stability Betty needed to help her finish school. With no parents or friends to encourage her to keep studying, EHY provided Betty with practical support helping her enrol into senior school and, over a three year period, seeing her achieve her HSC.
Inspired by her EHY caseworker, Betty went on to complete a Certificate, then Diploma in Community Services at TAFE. EHY helped Betty source suitable work experience and work placements. After a great deal of hard work and dedication, Betty is now proud to be helping others as a youth worker.
“As a youth worker I have a job that I love. I have a better understanding of what my clients are going through and I feel I can connect with them,” she said. “Every day is a different and new challenge that helps me grow and learn how to help others better. It is so rewarding helping my clients and meeting so many new people, I’m incredibly lucky to love my job like I do.”
Betty is now living on her own; happy and independent. She is still receiving case management support from EHY and is supported by another accommodation provider. She became an ambassador for Western Sydney Homelessness Connect, managed by Evolve, and says it was one of her proudest moments.
Although she was nervous in front of a crowd that included senior politicians, with the support of EHY staff Betty spoke about how we as a sector can raise the profile of homelessness and housing issues. She used the event as an opportunity to advocate for young people with Geoff Lee MP, NSW Member for Parramatta. She explained that as a teenager, she was unaware of the services available to help her, and ended up in an unsafe situation. “Young people can be so vulnerable but they are the future,” she said. “If we want a brighter and more rewarding future we need to tackle the issue of youth homelessness seriously.”
To other young people in her previous situation Betty says “Don’t give up; keep fighting to be the best person you can be, and use the resources available to help you to do so. Organisations like Evolve are so important, and young people need to be aware that people like the amazing workers at EHY are there to help, and won’t give up on you.”
“Before EHY I had no confidence; I was always worried because I didn’t have somewhere to stay of my own, sometimes staying somewhere dangerous,” she said. “I don’t think I would be where I am today without EHY.”
At 22 years old Masi has experienced hardships most of us could not imagine. From near death at sea, to incarceration and torture, it is only through the support of Evolve Housing and others that he is now on track to live a successful and happy life.
At just 14, Masi and his uncle fled the constant fear of persecution and the atrocity of war in Afghanistan, in search of a life of safety and peace. They escaped in the night, having to leave Masi’s parents behind, and made it to Indonesia before undertaking a treacherous life-threatening boat trip to Australia. They were so desperate to flee, that the prospect of death at sea did not deter them from seeking a life of freedom and hope.
Days into the trip to Australia, the boat was hit by an enormous wave, capsizing the boat. Twelve people died, including Masi’s uncle – the only family he had. Despite watching his uncle die before him, Masi used all his strength and resilience to cling to a floating log for 16 hours until Indonesian fisherman were able to pull him and three others to safety.
Masi was detained for two years in an Indonesian detention facility where he experienced torture, isolation and constant pain. He was alone, without family or friends, trying to make sense of loss and grief, and his dire situation.
A life in Indonesia for Masi was fraught with danger, and with no options left he bravely made another boat journey to Australia. Again he risked his life for a chance at the promise of a better life. After numerous attempts he was picked up by Australian authorities and held once again in detention on Christmas Island and Darwin for more than 18 months. After 3 ½ long years, Masi’s battle to live in Australia was over, and he was finally granted permanent residency at the age of 17.
After years of uncertainty, Masi is finally finding some stability in his life. Through the support of a number of organisations, including Evolve Housing for Youth (EHY) and Parramatta Mission, he has been able to work towards his goals. With more resilience than most young people could imagine, Masi has overcome all odds to succeed in Australia. He gained employment as a semi professional soccer player; completed a Diploma in Sports and Development; and is qualified to become a certified Life coach. He now works as a coach and represents his sport through various youth speaking events.
Despite his family remaining in detention in Pakistan, Masi maintains a deeply positive attitude and dreams of being reunited with his family in a safe place they can all call home.
From homelessness and despair, teenager Roma has now achieved independent living, studying and working part-time, with the support of Evolve Housing for Youth (EHY).
Arriving in Australia in 2012 as a 16 year old, Roma was excited by the prospects of her new life. Before long however, with no family support or anyone to turn to, and following a series of unfortunate events, Roma’s life was in a downward spiral. She found herself homeless, and eventually contacted EHY for help, and a safe place to live.
By the time Roma made the brave decision to reach out for help, she had been homeless for seven months. Roma was offered shared accommodation with three other women; an opportunity she welcomed with open arms. Sadly Roma was bullied by the three other tenants, and despite participating in conflict resolution workshops, the situation did not improve. Working closely with the EHY caseworkers, Roma was offered alternative accommodation where she could live on her own.
This situation was perfect for Roma as she was studying for her HSC exams. During this time she managed to secure a part time job she loved, working with young children in an after school care program working.
After a great deal of hard work, and with the support of her caseworker, Roma achieved excellent HSC results and enrolled into a Certificate III TAFE course. As Roma’s confidence grew so did her independence and she became less reliant on her caseworker. Roma independently found shared accommodation with a friend in the private rental market, where she lives today.
It was only through the support of EHY and Roma’s caseworker that she could find a safe and secure place to call home. Providing Roma with the right opportunities and supporting her to build skills and confidence, has meant she can continue her TAFE studies while working part-time. She hopes to one day go to university. By providing holistic support and listening to the individual needs of young people, EHY is helping people to build better lives.
Following the tragic loss of her husband in 2002, Roxana was left to raise her two young sons, one with autism, on her own. Roxana and her boys were originally from Argentina, and the only family they had was each other. Despite many challenges, after becoming a tenant of Evolve Housing, Roxana and her family have been able to rebuild their lives.
Roxana has been an Evolve Housing tenant for about 15 years. Six months after her husband passed away, her youngest son Brandon, aged 2 at the time, was diagnosed with autism with Moderate Intellectual Delay. With her family all living overseas, Roxana found it increasingly difficult to cope. She didn’t feel she had any support or people to turn to, and became depressed.
What she did have was a safe and affordable house from Evolve, and financial assistance from Centrelink. Her prior education gave her the strength to carry on and seek help for herself and her family. With housing and financial support she was able to access early intervention, counselling, doctors, psychologists, therapists, education, and most importantly friends, and a support network.
Thirteen years on… her eldest son Christopher, now in his mid-20s, graduated from high school and went to University. He has followed his dreams and passion for soccer and moved to Argentina. He works for the Lionel Messi Foundation which was created with the wish that all children should have opportunities to make their dreams come true. Roxana remarried in 2013. Her youngest son Brandon is now 16 and attends the support unit at Baulkham Hills High School (selective school). He is also an entrepreneur, and with his mother, opened a social club for autistic and mainstream children. ‘Brandon’s Club’ opened in June 2014 , with funding from My Choice Matters. In 2018 Brandon received extra funding from Fundability to continue his project, and also secured his first part-time job. Brandon is now an accomplished drummer in a local band and his dream is to become a rock star drummer. They are working towards ‘Brandon’s School of Rock’, a space for teens with disability to jam with musicians.
Roxana’s story of her family’s Journey Home shows that with a little help, support and kindness we can triumph over adversity. “I just want to say thank you Evolve for your support in times of need. We will never forget you!”, she said. “Thank you for the affordable and safe housing for my family.”
Community Case Studies
Evolve residents have gone green and are building their own community gardens as part of Evolve’s greening initiative in partnership with the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney’s (RBGS) Community Greening program.
As a community-minded and community-driven organisation, we continue to be actively involved in projects and community initiatives that deliver sustainable designs and provide for long term viability.
Andrea Galloway, CEO Evolve Housing, said that the community gardens are a fantastic initiative for residents to develop new skills in gardening, grow their own food and learn more about sustainable living.
“Evolve Housing’s partnership with the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney’s Community Greening program has been very effective in encouraging residents to work together and engage with nature, and is also an easy way for residents to improve their own health and wellbeing right in their own backyard,” said Ms Galloway.
Evolve provides residents with tools and supplies to support the garden, including garden hose, watering can, gardening gloves, shovel, spades, buckets, and kneeling mats. The plants are all provided by Royal Botanic Gardening program so there is no cost to the residents, further encouraging them to get involved. Staff from the RBGS Community Greening program visit residents at various stages throughout the process to keep their knowledge up to date, check in on the garden, and teach residents new skills to keep their garden healthy.
The program is a community building initiative that encourages residents to develop problem solving skills and build social cohesion.
One of Evolve’s resident groups involved in the community gardens program is the over 55s complex in Hebersham, who created their first garden in early 2017. Evolve recognises that the risk of social isolation increases with older residents, and considers it vital to provide opportunities for residents to develop new skills, and to interact with their neighbours in a meaningful way.
The gardens provide the health benefits of physical activity, access to fresh food, and an opportunity for residents to learn about living sustainably, including waste minimisation and recycling. They also provide a safe open space where residents are involved in shared decision-making, further increasing their sense of belonging.
Hebersham residents have agreed to be part of a Western Sydney University study looking at the benefits of community gardens. Anecdotally there is a general consensus that being outdoors and being involved is nature is good for you, and this study will hopefully provide the data to support this. University researchers will speak with residents at different points throughout their garden development to understand the positive benefits.
Evolve currently has four community garden programs, at Hebersham, Narraweena, Kingswood and Seven Hills. The resident engagement team has two more community gardens in development and continues to actively engage with residents to increase the number of gardens.
In March 2017 Evolve Housing for Youth was successfully awarded a grant from the Cumberland Council Stronger Communities Fund for a 12 month project to build additional capability to support Evolve Housing for Youth clients in need of mental health services.
The Mental Health Education, Pathways and Partnerships Project will employ a Mental Health Professional and will focus on further developing referral pathways, networks and partnerships to ensure mental health services are delivered to clients in a streamlined, timely and effective way.
Evolve Housing for Youth, a division of Evolve Housing, provides supported transitional accommodation for young people from 16 to 25 years of age and their accompanying children. In addition to housing services Evolve Housing for Youth provide case management and coordination addressing client’s needs, including mental health, Domestic and Family Violence, alcohol and other drugs and abuse.
The client intake numbers show that over 25% of Evolve Housing for Youth clients have indications of mental health needs. However as staff get to know their clients better and establish a trusting relationship, often additional mental health needs are uncovered during case support sessions.
With the security of a safe home, it is possible for Evolve Housing for Youth staff to assess and appropriately refer young people to mental health services and provide follow up support which will have profound and sustainable impacts on their lives. It has been shown that by providing access to safe, affordable and appropriate housing it can greatly improve health, mental health and well-being, however just providing housing alone is not the complete solution.
The young people Evolve Housing for Youth support often come from very challenging circumstances in life and have a range of complex needs including mental health issues. This project will build our capacity to provide targeted mental health referrals to appropriate services along with the ongoing support these young people need to reach their full potential.
The mental health project and the linkages that will be created will become an important resource for Evolve Housing for Youth staff and clients. Staff have indicated that in the past, the young age of their clients and the complex nature of the support required by the young people has presented a barrier to effectively connecting them with Mental Health services, as many are targeted for older adults and not specifically for young people.
The resources, partnerships and referral pathways developed by the project will be able to be leveraged by other services in the local area within the Mental Health space and will improve Mental Health outcomes for vulnerable young people across the Cumberland region.
At Evolve we know that by partnering we can achieve far more than we can alone. We work with a wide range of key stakeholders and partners to deliver outcomes which meet the needs of our residents and future residents. Housing affordability is a major issue around our home base of Western Sydney and many people are at risk of or experiencing homelessness.
In 2016, for the second time, Evolve was the lead organizer of the Western Sydney Homeless Connect (WSHC) event taking place on 8th August 2016. This annual event connects vulnerable people throughout Western Sydney with over 50 support service providers in one place, on one day, to achieve real outcomes in breaking the cycle of homelessness and disadvantage. This includes connecting guests with Housing Pathways through Housing NSW, youth services, case management, training and employment services, health services, and family and domestic violence services. In 2016 WSHC was the key event of the Homeless Persons Week agenda for the City of Parramatta.
The event provided a huge amount of value to the 1500 guests who attended. With no address, no connections to services or even knowledge of what support services are available, people will continue to experience homelessness across Western Sydney. Events like WSHC aim to change that.
Through Evolve’s leadership, the event was able to provide 2600 meals, 1000 care packs, 1500 cups of barista made coffee, 242 health checks from Western Sydney University, 30 dental checks from Westmead Oral Health, and 110 haircuts from HairAid volunteers, among other services.
As well as the service provided on the day, the event facilitates informal connections with all of the contributing organisations across Western Sydney. Key connections made by Evolve through the leadership role it plays in WSHC include Western Sydney University, Parramatta Mission, St Vincent De Paul Society, Parramatta Council, Granville Multicultural Center and Settlement Service International.
Andrea Galloway, CEO Evolve Housing explained that, as a Western Sydney Community Housing Provider, Evolve’s aim is to support people experiencing disadvantage and homelessness to empower them on their journey to greater independence.
Ms Galloway said, “Evolve has committed to ensuring WSHC continues to provide for vulnerable people living in Western Sydney and connecting them with the right services that can help them break the cycle of homelessness. This includes connecting people experiencing homelessness with Housing Pathways”.
Evolve Case Studies
Evolve Housing is committed to providing a supportive and rewarding working environment for our workforce and recognises that the quality, responsiveness and professionalism of its workforce is directly linked to the achievement of our strategic goals.
Learning and development opportunities extend and broaden the scope of professional capabilities of our workforce and also provide opportunities to acquire, practice and adopt new knowledge, thereby enhancing individual, group and organisational learning and capabilities.
Mat Toailoa, joined Evolve in 2013 as a Housing Manager and manages 170 social and affordable housing tenancies, successfully negotiating the complexities and interconnections between the two.
With the support of the leadership team, Mat rose through the ranks, winning PowerHousing Australia’s Rising Star Award in 2017, awarded to a young up-and-coming team member who demonstrates leadership qualities, enhances tenant outcomes and has developed positive relationships within the workplace.
Speaking about his nomination and experience, Mat said it was a great privilege and exciting opportunity to be named as Rising Star.
“Since working at Evolve I have aspired to become a leader and thanks to the support of my colleagues and managers they have supported my progress. I have had the opportunity to attend training days, complete courses, and step up into leadership positions to upskill my capabilities which I hope will achieve better outcomes for our tenants,” said Mat.
Joy Sneesby, Operations Manager, has directly managed Mat since 2013 and said he has contributed a great deal to the organisation and can be relied on for his dedication to get the job done with the best outcomes for tenants and Evolve.
“We are proud to see how Mat has developed as an employee and a leader. Mat has held several portfolios during his time at Evolve demonstrating his agility and capacity. Mat’s colleagues, including his leaders, look to him for guidance around issues, particularly in, but not limited to, the areas where Mat has developed expertise,” said Joy.
Danielle Wilcock, Senior Manager, People and Capability said building our internal capacity and capability is integral to the realisation of our strategy and we are always looking for training and development opportunities for staff.
“Mat has participated in an array of training courses during his time at Evolve, including units from the Certificate in Social Housing. These courses have developed and enhanced his interpersonal and leadership abilities. Mat has been given a challenging portfolio and received mentoring from more senior staff which has assisted him to act as a Team Leader during periods of leave,” said Danielle.
Evolve is proud to support our staff as they grow and develop and we look forward to supporting Mat to continue to achieve every professional success.
In 2016-17, Evolve entered a new technological era, developing a strategy to upgrade our ICT systems and processes to support growth and create efficiencies. This strategy resulted in the development of a three year program of work which will prepare us to be responsive to changing demands, increase our agility and ultimately improve the way we interact with our customers.
The ICT strategy identifies a range of customers both internal and external including our residents, State and Federal Government agencies, financial institutions, developers, Councils, our staff and other community based organisations.
Key improvements include:
- A refresh and upgrade of Evolve’s ICT infrastructure as a service cloud including servers, networking, storage and security upgrades delivering scalable and robust infrastructure.
- Implementation of a Disaster Recovery Plan (DRP) as part of our new infrastructure as a Service Technology to support our new Contact Centre, including the introduction of a dedicated 1800 number, dashboards, unified communications, call back facility and post call satisfaction survey capabilities.
Systems automation and business process re-engineering for the processes below:
- Rent review, voids and vacancies, rent statements, support plans, asset and maintenance, and mobility platform (Ci.Anywhere).
- Development of new reports resulting in reduction of manual processes and higher levels of data quality assurance and accuracy.
- Introduction of an employee self-service portal allowing staff to access their records, leave and pay details from anywhere.
- Billing automation achieved by integrating bills from Sydney Water, local councils, electricity companies, strata companies and landlords with our internal system.
- Development of bulk data upload capabilities which removes manual processing, standardises entries and eliminates errors.
- Development of management dashboards and analytical reports, utilising business intelligence tools (BI)
What this means to our customers
Our ICT improvements have enabled us to communicate more information in different ways to our residents. Residents now receive SMS notifications and reminders about rent and non-rent items which assists them to stay on top of their bills and sustain their tenancies. This along with other process improvements has resulted in a 50% reduction in arrears.
The Contact Centre makes it easier for residents to communicate with us by introducing a 1800 number. Residents now no longer need to worry about the cost of making contact with us. Residents can also utilise our call back feature which enables to keep their place in the queue and have a Customer Contact Centre Officer promptly return their call.
By integrating our systems we have reduced manual data entry which has improved data integrity and created reporting efficiencies. This assists us to be responsive to requests for information, analyse trends and produce timely and accurate reports with minimal manual intervention. By improving transparency there is greater accountability in the information we need to help Evolve continually improve.