Eltham’s refugees to lose their homes

Words by Welcome to Eltham Committee

On 15th February St Vincent’s Care Services (SVCS) in Eltham held a meeting to inform residents of the 52 independent living units that their homes would be decommissioned and eventually demolished. [Note 1].

St Vincent’s have hired a Project Officer to interview and help residents to find “alternative, suitable, and long-term accommodation”. Their stated aim is to find accommodation for all residents over the next ten months, but acknowledge that this process may take up to two years, and have promised that no tenant will be left without finding suitable, long term housing.

This announcement came as a complete surprise to the residents and has occurred at a time when we have a housing shortage crisis in Melbourne. The residents are some of the most vulnerable of people ⏤ many of whom are Australian battlers who have few supports and some of whom have called St Vincent’s home for 21 years!

The other large group of residents are the refugees from Syria and Iraq that Eltham welcomed in 2016. Since their arrival, they have been living in the independent living units where they have finally found security and safety and which they believed were their long-term homes. 

These refugees have already been homeless. This announcement is adding to the significant trauma that Eltham’s refugees are now facing: earthquakes in Syria have seen many of their families left homeless; ongoing civil wars have resulted in families being separated and scattered around the world. They now face possible displacement from their new home in Eltham, and an enormous amount of stress and uncertainty over the coming months. 

Many of the residents are aged and have complex health issues. [Note 2]. Despite this, they have made huge efforts to adapt to their new life with a new language and culture. They have made their homes here, they have friends here, they are involved in the community and they support local businesses. They would love to be able to remain in Eltham where they have felt so welcome and where they have become such positive members of the local community.

Welcome to Eltham will be advocating on behalf of the residents to ensure that St Vincent’s honours its undertaking that “no tenant will be left without finding suitable long-term housing.”  On the 1st of March we met with politicians Vicki Ward & Kate Thwaites.  They are working through options. Hopefully long term solutions, but they need some time to get things straight. [Note 3].

We urge you to support us in our efforts and will keep the Eltham community updated on the situation.

Notes supplied by Lincoln Hopper, CEO: St Vincent’s Care Services.

  1. [Utilising independent advice] we’ve estimated that a rebuild of the housing on the site would cost in excess of $20 million, and there’s no guarantee that – given the accommodation sits on an area vulnerable to flooding and water damage (which is why they are deteriorating) – authorities would allow such a redevelopment.
  1. For several, we’re already well advanced at organising for them to move straight across to the residential aged care on our Eltham site. For others, we’re in the process of organising an evaluation by the Aged Care Assessment Team to identify what type of housing or support is best. Others will have different housing needs  – whether that be related to their refugee status, their age, their complex background, and so on.  
  1. We’ve shared our information with all local, state and federal representatives for the area. We’re speaking to several of them as we progress with our plans.

Comments below are taken from an article submitted to CopperLine by Jason McClintock

  • St Vincent’s Care Services has informed all 52 residents of Rundle and Herring Houses that their buildings are unsafe and that other accommodation will need to be found. The decision does not include the Aged Care components of the facility.
  • Many residents originally moved into Judge Book [now St Vincent’s] with the term of their stay being specified as “from commencement date until death”, and governed under the “Retirement Villages Act 1986”. This has been superseded by subsequent agreements signed with SVCS which have removed these provisions. This has created the situation they now find themselves in with little to no legal recourse.
  • Initial investigations show long waiting lists for low-cost retirement living in the area with some facilities having a 5-year waiting list.