This the story that appeared in OCL August 4, 2016 -

Bob Holland


For a few weeks now I have been wanting to find out a bit more about the Orange Homeless Shelter and as chance has it, this week is Homelessness Week across Australia. If you're wondering why we need a Homelessness Week, maybe the reason is the fact that currently there are 105,000 people experiencing homelessness every night in Australia, and many more living in insecure housing, one step away from being homeless.
For this exercise however, let's concentrate on homelessness here in Orange which is described by those in the local industry as 'an epidemic'. My hope is that after reading this story, a few more of us will want to do something to help those who find themselves in this predicament.
First up, let me tell you a bit about our local homeless shelter facility and about some of the services it provides for people who need them.
The crisis accommodation facility (Orange Homeless Shelter) is called Wirree, it's staffed by the Housing Plus Homelessness Team and funded by Family and Community Services. It's one of seven transitional properties managed by Housing Plus. The staff at Wirree provide a whole range of services, generally tailored to the individual's needs, and can include such things as helping them re-connect with family and friends, helping with addiction issues, arranging professional help for trauma or mental health issues, or helping them transition into permanent accommodation through training on how to budget or care for a property etc. A community outreach worker is often allocated to help them with the transition after they move out of Wirree and into long term accommodation.
Wirree has nine rooms which are full most times and with long waiting lists. Wirree has accommodated 864 people for various lengths of time since opening in November 2014, and for those they can't accommodate at any particular time, they have access to other services and refuges that can often help.
So what type of people can find themself homeless, couch searching or sleeping in their car? According to Raelene Hopkins, Team Leader - Homelessness Services at Housing Plus "We see people of all ages and backgrounds enter the facility. Relationship breakdown is a contributing factor for many of our clients; if a man or woman has to leave the family home very suddenly, there is often nowhere else for them to go."
Wirree provides a marvellous service for those who need it, and apart from the Housing Plus team, other help is also needed. Currently this is provided by a number of local businesses and organisations including Housing NSW, Veritas, local real estate agencies, the Salvos, Vinnie's, the Police, Wangarang Industries and Ashcroft's Supa IGA and their customers.
Wirree welcomes donations from the community and there are various ways we can help. You can donate money through Ashcroft's Community Chest program or through Housing Plus in Byng Street, food and toiletry items through the donation baskets in Ashcroft's two Supa IGA stores, second hand furniture items to Housing Plus and anything else you feel they need through Housing Plus.

If you'd like to help but not sure how, call Housing Plus on 1800 603 300 to ask about your options.

This information from Housing Plus provides further information for those interested -
Wirree: More than just a bed for the night
Wirree is the crisis accommodation refuge in Orange for adults without children who are experiencing homelessness and is funded by the NSW Department of Family and Community Services under the Going Home Staying Home Reform. Housing Plus commenced both property management and operational service delivery of Wirree in November 2014 and since then has undertaken significant upgrades to the building.

Wirree, which is a Wiradjuri word meaning ‘to lie down’, has provided crisis accommodation for more than xx people since November 2014, helping to alleviate the homelessness epidemic in Orange and the surrounding area.

The facility is staffed by the Orange Homelessness and Housing Support Service, which aims to help vulnerable people to participate fully in social and economic life. This is achieved through early intervention programs, rapid re-housing response, crisis and transition housing response, and intensive support provisions for clients with complex needs.

The service works intensively with the residents of Wirree to ensure they transition smoothly into long term housing and that long term housing is sustained. This is achieved by working with other services that can provide the range of social and legal welfare assistance that a client may need, as well as helping the client re-connect with family and friends.
Raelene Hopkins, Team Leader - Homelessness Services at Housing Plus, says, “It is with this ‘wrap around’ support that clients are provided with the means to move in to secure, safe homes, often with prospects for work and education on the horizon.”
“Providing a roof over somebody’s head is a just a small part of what we do at Wirree If a client is struggling with addiction, we get them the professional help they need to overcome it; the same if a client is suffering from trauma or a mental illness.”
When a client leaves the facility to move into long term accommodation, support continues in the form of outreach. Hopkins says, “Clients are allocated a community outreach worker to help them maintain a tenancy; commonly, this can mean helping with budgeting or how to care for a property.”
“A lot of the time, people lack the basic life skills that we all take for granted. This is where Housing Plus can help out.Our approach is aimed at empowering and working in partnership with clients to effectively meet their individual needs.”
The Wirree crisis accommodation refuge is one of seven transitional properties managed by Housing Plus. There are nine rooms at the facility and these are full the majority of the time with long waiting lists. The length of stay is dependent on individual circumstances but the average stay is around two months.

Residents enter the facility as a referral from Housing NSW or via Link2home, thestate-wide homelessness information and referral telephone service. Before entering Wirree, residents are usually couch surfing or sleeping in their car.Hopkins says, “We see people of all ages and backgrounds enter the facility. Relationship breakdown is a contributing factor for many of our clients; if a man or woman has to leave the family home very suddenly, there is often nowhere else for them to go.”

Helping people into long term housing is very much the aim of the Orange Homelessness and Housing Support Service and Housing Plus works closely with Housing NSW and Veritas House, the Orange youth homelessness service, to get clients into their own homes quicker. These organisations meet once a month to share client information and find suitable housing solutions for these clients.Hopkins says, “Wirree is a last resort for many people but that’s what makes it such a valuable service for the town. When all other options have been exhausted, we give people a place to go.”

Housing Plus is generously supported in its work at Wirree by Ashcroft IGA in Orange, which regularly provides cash, food and toiletry donations.

These were further questions we asked Housing Plus during ourresearch for this story -
How many people has Wirree accommodated since 2014, the report says xx?
846 clients have been serviced by the homelessness team since Nov 2014 (housed in Wirree, transitional properties, temporary accommodation etc). This function under the going home staying home program funded by FACS.
Where is Wirree located? What is it? A house, flats, something else?
Wirree is a refuge complex in Orange. We prefer not to give the actual address due to client confidentiality/privacy. Residents are given a private room with ensuite bathroom but there is a communal kitchen, lounge room and other shared spaces to build a sense of community.
Other than Ashcrofts, who else supports, volunteers, gives or contributes in some way to the facility voluntarily?
Ashcroft’s SUPA IGA is our biggest supporter and, for this reason, we always like to mention them in any promotional material. We also partner with other businesses/organisations in Orangeto service clients – Housing NSW, Veritas, real estate agencies, Salvo’s, Vinnie’s, Police. Wangarang Industries services the apartment weekly for cleaning.
Is there anything the community can do to help?
Absolutely. We rely on donations. We get donations of second hand furniture and furnishings for Wirree but, unfortunately, we only have limited storage space so we cannot accept all donations.
 What happens to those others on the “long waiting lists”?
If we are unable to provide a room at Wirree, we usually refer the client to Housing NSW or Link2home. Alternatively, we try to find them a room in another refuge. Sometimes we are able to provide temporary accommodation e.g. in a motel room. When a room becomes available at Wirree, we refer to the waiting list and contact the client to see if they are still requiring accommodation.
What other functions do the other “transitional properties” fulfil?
Just to clarify, there is a difference between crisis accommodation (Wirree) and transitional accommodation, which we also provide (we have seven transitional properties). Apologies, but there was a discrepancy in the original report supplied. The main difference is the amount of time a client can stay in the property. Crisis accommodation (Wirree) is short term accommodation (generally no longer than three months but this can be extended in special circumstances). The aim is to support the client with the immediate crisis and prioritise their needs e.g. a trauma-informed response, legal/court support, financial assistance, mental health/drug and alcohol counselling, advocacy etc. Transitional accommodation is medium term accommodation (3-6 months but, again, can be extended – 12 months is the max). As in crisis accommodation, we aim to give clients in transitional accommodationthe skills they need to exit transitional accommodation, and gain and maintain a long term tenancy.  For example, we facilitate access to education and employment/vocational opportunities, support them to develop living skills, provide support to deal with trauma etc.