The Living and Thriving program supports men who are navigating their way out of rough sleeping. Acting Manager for Inclusion and Disability at Vinnies Woolloomooloo, Jenna Carew, shares how the program was adapted during the first COVID-19 lockdown.
The ‘Living and Thriving’ program was designed to run from the Ozanam Learning Centre (OLC) in Woolloomooloo. It was the best place; perfect for group work, capacity to serve lunch for a crowd, and importantly a place where clients feel welcome. “Then, the first COVID-19 lockdown happened, and level three had to close,” explained Jenna. “We found ourselves heading into a Sydney winter with a program that could no longer run from the OLC”.
Like many Vinnies NSW programs, the Living and Thriving program was propelled into a scenario where it had to adapt to progress. “The 24 men we had engaged in the program were housed in hotel accommodation all across the city, so we firstly tried to deliver the program material in one-to-one settings,” she said. “But running the program this way was like trying to put a square peg in a round hole.” Jenna and her team were aware that living skills for this cohort can be an incredibly delicate subject and quickly observed that delivering the material in a one-to-one environment tended to be intimidating. “You’re already meeting the clients under very tense circumstances. For many, rough sleeping has been a way of life, a culture,” she explained. “So, we made more structural changes.”
The program was moved to a hotel in Chippendale which had a space to run group activities whilst adhering to COVID-19 safety requirements. “The hotel had a courtyard and BBQ area. It was like striking gold!” laughed Jenna. “It was a lot less intimidating, and we were able to use space by offering social barbeques,” she explained. “The clients were involved in serving the food and could practice their interpersonal skills. This meant they had a role to play, like being generous and hospitable.” Jenna further described how significant this was for some of the clients who had severe anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Four BBQs were offered in total. “Other services were involved, like the nurse from Matthew Talbot who provided health support”, she explained. “We were coordinating the program in real time, going where we needed to and knowing when to stop with the content,” Jenna described that one client was able to be housed in a Vinnies share house. “He has since got a job a Coles, had his teeth repaired and has been clean and sober for 12 months” she described. “He even wrote a poem about the Living and Thriving Program!” she laughed. Once the first lockdown concluded, the program returned to Woolloomooloo. Following the success of the adapted program, the Disability and Inclusion Team have since developed a new position, so that the program can continue to be delivered as an outreach model.