Changing for good

Posted 18 August 2017 9:06am
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Since the age of 15, John has been in and out of prison.

He spent about six years in custody over the past 15 years of his life and had no stable accommodation for 10 years. 

When John was released from prison, he was referred to the Sacred Heart Mission J2SI program pilot and was offered three years of intensive case management.

Meeting with John was difficult for the case worker, because John was heavily intoxicated, which was especially challenging in regards to securing him a house.

A self-confessed polysubstance user since the age of 16, it was important to be creative when meeting with John because he could not concentrate for long.

Instead, the caseworker set up informal catch-ups. This worked well building trust with John because he did not feel comfortable in a traditional appointment setting.

After developing this trust, John confessed he was concerned the police were going to arrest him. This happened six weeks into the program. John was in prison until October 2016 for drug and theft crimes.

During this time Sacred Heart Mission worked closely with other providers in the social services sector to prepare a strong case in John’s defence.

John’s legal representative from the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) worked tirelessly to gather John’s medical and criminal history over the past 15 years. Through coordinating John’s existing services, J2SI staff helped him meet his Melbourne Magistrates Court conditions.

During his most recent time spent in custody, John received a diagnosis of schizophrenia and began taking medication for this condition. Before this, John had never been diagnosed or received appropriate treatment for mental health issues. As a result of this diagnosis John was supported by J2SI to link with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service and subsequently Access Health in St Kilda to manage his medication.

This meant the VALS lawyer was able to argue John’s offending behaviour had been related to his lack of mental health support and substance use throughout the years leading up to his most recent imprisonment.

His lawyer was also able to put forward a case for John to be placed on the Assessment and Referral Court (ARC) list, which is a specialist court set up to meet the needs of accused persons who have a mental illness and/ or a cognitive impairment. The List is located at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court and works collaboratively with the Court Integrated Services Program (CISP), which provides case management to participants. This meant all of the support people could testify to how they would be involved with his recovery.

John was released from custody in October 2016 with very strict bail conditions including monthly meetings with his ARC case manager, monthly appearances at ARC, a daily police check in, an eight o’clock curfew and no further offending behaviour.

Since October 2016 John has met these conditions and has been able to work on a number of goals towards his permanent housing, substance abuse, mental health, independence and increasing connection with family.

Through strong advocacy by the J2SI Intensive Case Manager and other social services, John secured a single room in a rooming house on the day of his release from custody.

John maintained this temporary housing without any issues for the duration of his stay, and has worked very hard on making sure his mental health remains stable.

Partnerships with housing providers are key to J2SI supporting people into their permanent home as quickly as possible. Through close work with one of our housing partners, John was able to be matched by J2SI with a three-bedroom property in the Southern Region of Melbourne (John has four children).

John has reconnected with the mother of his children and he has moved into the three-bedroom property in April 2017. John’s partner and his children are now working towards moving to Melbourne to live with him.

Sacred Heart Mission is currently undertaking the second phase of the Journey to Social Inclusion (J2SI) program, which follows the pilot which ran from 2009 – 2012.

Through partnerships with other providers in the social services sector, they are supporting 60 people who are experiencing long-term, chronic homelessness for up to three years. 

J2SI takes a significant different approach from existing programs and sets a new benchmark for addressing long-term homelessness in Australia.

J2SI is different because it takes a relationship-based approach, provides long-term support, and works from the premise that if people can quickly access and sustain their housing, this provides a solid foundation to. Improve their health and well-being, connection with community and life purpose, and independence.

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