THE first sod for the St Vincent De Paul Society’s new $3.3 million Men’s Crisis Accommodation Centre in Nowra was turned on Friday.
The new centre is being constructed on the site of the old hostel at the corner of Lawrence Avenue and Plunkett Street in Nowra.
The redevelopment comes after years of planning and community consultation and will replace the existing 10-bed John Purcell House.
Work on the 18-bed complex will be undertaken by Unanderra-based Project Coordination, which has completed a series of major construction projects in the Shoalhaven in recent years, including the upgrade of Nowra Court House, expansion of Bomaderry TAFE and the new West Nowra Field Operations Centre for Endeavour Energy.
Former St Vincent de Paul Society Wollongong Central Council presidents Cynthia Fenemore and Ivor Davies, who will also manage the program on behalf of the society, were given the honour of turning the first sods of the project.
Ms Fenemore said the new facility would improve accommodation services for local men experiencing homelessness and also provide learning opportunities to help people rebuild their lives.
“The new facility will assist the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in our community,” she said.
The centre is due to be completed by next January and aims to be the “greenest” building in Nowra, featuring rooftop solar panels, thermo efficient window frames, recycled floor coverings in upstairs areas, in-ground water tanks to recycle storm water, individually controlled power to each room to minimise power being left on, as well as individual bathrooms for each client to respect their privacy and dignity.
Apart from offering better accommodation solutions, the new facility will also provide a learning centre that will play a crucial role in helping the men gain new skills and confidence and become more independent.
Current hostel manager Steve Sweeney said the hostel would celebrate its 30th anniversary next year.
“The old hostel had reached its use by date and with the help of the diocese we’ve obtained the funds to redevelop the site,” he said.
“But it has taken some time to develop – we aimed at making it sustainable and environmentally friendly and at the same time to provide the clients we are housing some dignity which will allow them to move on in a constructive manner.”
He said the learning centre will not only stage courses for its residents but for all people in the community who needed some sort of assistance.
“We will also have a dedicated casual client area. In the past we have dealt with up to 600 people a year who want a shower or meal and that area will be dedicated to help them,” he said.
“There is an obvious need in the community and a broad range of people we are helping.
“We are providing a facility that Nowra can be proud of, the St Vincent De Paul Society can be proud of and at the same time provide clients a reasonable standard of accommodation.”
Despite the old hostel being demolished, Mr Sweeney said a smaller temporary facility had been established in an adjoining cottage.
“It is on a much smaller scale. We are accommodating just six men but we had to keep something going as the demand has been so strong.
“In the past 10 years it is nothing for us to turn away 40 men a month who are looking for accommodation.
“We refer them to other centres to try to get them accommodation. Unfortunately, a lot do couch surf, some live under the bridges or wherever they can. The Housing Department does assist with temporary accommodation but that is only short-term and does not address the issue.
“Hopefully, with this new hostel we can better cater for the need.”
The hostel caters for men aged 18-80, with Mr Sweeney saying that in the last 12-18 months the need had increased dramatically.
“Due to the GFC we are finding more people than ever who are homeless or living on the streets due to mortgage stress,” he said.