Julie steps up in the fight against homelessness

Lady smiling at camera in a room

Julie is one of the department’s Community Engagement Officers (CEOs) from Victoria, who works with some of our most vulnerable customers, including those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“Community Engagement Officers visit local agencies such as homeless refuges, youth agencies, hospital mental health units and drug and alcohol agencies,” Julie said.

“We see vulnerable customers in an environment where they feel comfortable and safe, and are often supported by their case worker. This is a service provided to customers who cannot access mainstream services due to their anxieties, addictions or risk of family violence.

“According to the 2011 Census, 105,237 Australians are homeless. What’s even more alarming is that 17 percent of homeless people are children under the age of 12. Homelessness affects all levels of society and across all backgrounds.

“In 2014–15, our CEOs supported over 15,000 customers who identified as being either homeless or at risk of homelessness when they first engaged with us,” Julie said.

“I’m very proud of my role as a CEO. I feel like we have a very positive impact on people, particularly young people without adequate support and those facing difficult situations in their life.

“Not long ago, a young man who was couch surfing with friends came into a youth agency to see me to report his participation activities. He asked for an interim health care card, but as I can’t print from my laptop, he came back to the service centre with me.

“During the walk we had a really good chat about his substance abuse and court issues, and how he was thinking of moving out of the area to avoid seeing the people he was using drugs with.

“He talked about going back to school and was interested in becoming a personal trainer. I encouraged him to let his jobactive provider know he was interested in a certificate of fitness and we discussed how education could be the way out of his situation.

“A few weeks later, he told me he’d enrolled and had started a personal training course. That chat we had gave him the encouragement to take the next step.

“It’s great to have outcomes from these seemingly little things, as we have the ability to engage at different levels with people outside the service centre environment.

”I love the diversity of my job and feel very much as though I am contributing to the community. I often get feedback from agencies on customers’ progress, and sometimes our interactions and interventions have been life changing. I just love this job.”

For the last 4 years, Julie has also coordinated a knitting drive in Victoria to donate to homeless refuges.

“The idea came to me when I worked at a homeless agency and a customer showed me the new scarf she’d just been given. She was very happy and said it made her so much warmer,” Julie said.

“I thought, ‘hmm I like to knit and so do others. If I could get a few things together we could make and donate very useful things to homeless people.

“Every year it gains momentum and more people get involved. It’s not just our staff that contribute, church groups and primary schools have knitted and donated many items too.

“Some groups donate bags and bags full of knitted items. The CEOs and I help to raise awareness of homelessness by combining with social workers, going to cluster meetings and community meetings, and talking to the service centre managers to encourage them to talk to their staff.”

‘Step up to end homelessness’ was the theme of this year’s homelessness prevention campaign, and Julie is encouraging everyone to do all they can to help end homelessness.