Sacred Heart Mission – Many journeys, one mission

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Peter was sleeping in a derelict building and had no income when he came to Sacred Heart Mission for his daily meals. For almost a year he would accept no other help from us. Peter, 46, was well educated and as a younger man had worked in a range of responsible jobs, but after a brutal, life threatening assault at the age of 34 his mental health was dramatically affected. Paranoia made it hard for him to trust our support workers or accept any help besides the offer of a free meal. Peter refused to claim Centrelink benefits because he did not trust the government with his personal information.

Our support workers persisted with Peter. The relaxed environment of our St Kilda dining hall gave us the chance to build rapport with him. Gradually, he began to open up and agreed to see our GP for a persistent health problem. Unfortunately, medical tests revealed he had cancer, which if left untreated would take his life within a year. Initially Peter refused all forms of treatment.

Eventually, Peter grew to trust a Mission case worker who was by his side for many stressful medical procedures. When it became clear that the cancer was terminal, the derelict building where he was camping became an impossible place to live. His case manager advocated tirelessly to get him a one bedroom community housing flat. He even agreed to accept Centrelink support so he could pay the rent.

Near the end of his life, Peter’s worker was able to reconnect him with his estranged family, including a grandchild he never knew. The assistance Peter received throughout his illness ensured he spent his last days with dignity, in relative comfort, with the support of his family. Although we wish the outcome had been different, we recognise our role is to make sure people have the best support possible no matter where their journey takes them.

Like Peter, Deborah came to Sacred Heart Mission through our meals program. Her story shows how we can provide a more immediate and life saving response in a crisis. Deborah, 63, lives in a small public housing unit with no air conditioning and poor ventilation. During the January heatwave earlier this year, with temperatures soaring to 40 plus degrees over four consecutive days, the unit was stifling. Struggling with mobility issues, failing eyesight and chronic depression, Deborah’s health was in jeopardy. As was the health of the many others supported by our Homecare team, who provide support to elderly people to help them live independently in their own homes. The team helps people like Deborah with services like personal care, light maintenance, transport to appointments, shopping and meals. But we’re also there for her in an emergency through an on call service if she needs it.

The initial response during the January heatwave was to take Deborah and others to the Mission’s air conditioned age care facility during the day, but when she returned to her flat in the evening the temperature inside was a suffocating 42 degrees and a direct health threat.

So when the next heat wave came in February, we knew we had to take action. We reached out to the community and two hotel chains, the Novotel and Ibis, agreed to offer respite in their hotel rooms, giving Deborah and others the chance to stay in safe, cool accommodation.

Every single person is different, and we recognise this in the work we do every day at Sacred Heart Mission. As we approach the end of the financial year, we’re asking people to support us to help people like Peter and Deborah. Donations over $2 are tax deductible. You can call our fundraising team on 1800 443 278 to donate over the phone or give online atwww.sacredheartmission.org

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