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Meeting the need where it arises in the Hunter Valley

Krysti Prytz (left) is a Salvation Army Homelessness Services case manager who works from Eastlakes Corps in the NSW Hunter region one day a week. She is pictured here with Corps Officer Auxiliary-Lieutenant Terri Muendel.

For most people, experiencing homelessness is something they will never face. The heartache of losing a home, the stress of the unknown, the feeling of being unsafe, the overwhelming confusion of accessing so many different services and the trauma of re-telling your story to different workers. These are just some of the many and varied experiences. LAUREN MARTIN reports


The Salvation Army is one of the largest homelessness service providers in Australia. In years gone by, homelessness services would be located within what was then referred to as a ‘homelessness shelter’, or, if no crisis accommodation was available, in an office somewhere separate from corps and other services.

But things are changing.

In the NSW Hunter Valley, Salvation Army homelessness support workers can be found at corps, centres and even Employment Plus offices. And the collaboration is enabling more people in crisis to get the support they need – where they’re at and when they need it.

Barrier to employment

April Raw is the manager of the largest Employment Plus office in the country. Situated in Charlestown, Newcastle, she employs 14 staff members, including a caseworker and two part-time psychologists, to assist participants primarily struggling with long-term unemployment. When the number of people presenting to their office with homelessness as a major barrier to employment started rising dramatically earlier this year, April knew they needed help.

“We specialise in employment, but we can’t consider that if people don’t have a stable shelter,” she said. “It’s not our responsibility to fix that problem, but it is our responsibility to refer them to other resources and support, but we were lacking in knowledge.”

So, April reached out to Philippa Lewis, team leader of The Salvation Army’s homelessness services in the area. She was able to visit the site, chat with workers about what assistance is available and supply the service with backpack sleeping bags and toiletry items to provide for Employment Plus participants who are experiencing homelessness. Then she asked if it would be helpful if a Salvation Army homelessness caseworker were on-site at Employment Plus one day a week.

It was a game-changer.

Tracy Iles started working a half day every Wednesday, then quickly realised it wasn’t enough. Now, she’s stationed at Charlestown Employment Plus every Friday for a full day. E-Plus workers make appointments with participants experiencing homelessness on those days. Tracy has been instrumental in assisting them in getting access to emergency accommodation, advocating on their behalf with housing, and ensuring they have essentials like food, toiletries, and medications while transitioning.

Tracy Iles (middle of the back row) is a Salvation Army Homelessness Services case manager who works part-time from the Charlestown Employment Plus office. She is pictured with the E-Plus team: (Back row) Meaghan, Taylor, Tracy, Maddy and Lisa. (From row) Courtney and Bianca.

“We couldn’t live without her now!” April raves about Tracy. “She is super supportive and goes above and beyond.” She says working alongside a Salvation Army social mission expression on-site at Employment Plus has been hugely beneficial for both the staff and participants and would love to see more partnerships occur with corps or social mission to benefit the people that E-Plus walks alongside.

Caseworkers make a home in every Salvation Army expression

It’s that kind of partnership that the homelessness services team in the Hunter is forging across multiple Salvation Army services and faith expressions. Team Leader Philippa Lewis says team members can be found on various days at Newcastle, Raymond Terrace, Eastlakes and Cessnock Corps.

“It’s so good that people in need can go to the corps because they know that it’s a safe place to go. There’s a sense of community and a sense of belonging – a space where they are not going to be judged.

“And then a corps officer or a volunteer might say to them: ‘Do you want to have a chat with our homelessness case manager?’ and they think, ‘I’m safe here, so I can talk about my life.’ So, it works really well being co-located.”

Eastlakes Corps Officer Auxiliary-Lieutenant Terri Muendel couldn’t agree more. “We’ve had homeless people sleeping in our corps backyard and in the carpark,” she says. “For so long, we desperately wanted to employ a homeless support person on staff, and then one day, the National homelessness team approached us and asked if we could house one of their workers in our centre for one day a week.

“It was an answer to prayer!”

Eastlakes Corps runs a café on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with a food pantry on Tuesdays and showers, washing machines and tea and coffee facilities available to people in need.

“We have a number of people who are living in their cars, and they come here and do their washing and have a cuppa,” says Terri. “It’s so great to have a homelessness support worker to refer them to so that they can get the specialist support they need, whilst our corps staff and volunteers support them with kindness, food, a listening ear and invitations to the different programs that we offer.”

One problem remains …

Despite the great collaboration, the most glaring problem remains when it comes to homelessness on the Central Coast and Hunter regions of NSW – a severe shortage of housing.

“People think that if they see a homelessness support worker, we will be able to get them a home,” says Philippa. “Believe me, I would love to. If I could, I would, for every single person. But it’s just so hard.” One gentleman she saw recently had been living in a tent for the past 12 months.

However, despite the difficulties, the team perseveres. The Salvation Army is a faith-based organisation, and the Bible does say that God can move mountains. “Our team moves heaven and high earth to try and find a pathway out,” she says of the homelessness services team’s commitment to their ‘housing first’ approach to case management.

“It doesn’t matter what a person’s barriers are – drug or alcohol issues, mental health issues, escaping domestic violence or coming out of prison, it doesn’t matter what their barrier is, we will house them, and then we look at everything else,” says Philippa. Because if a person hasn’t got a home, it’s very difficult for them to think, plan and act. So, the emphasis on ‘housing first’ is a priority.

At Oasis Youth Services on the Central Coast, a homelessness case manager was recently able to assist two older teens who were experiencing domestic violence. “We put them into transitional housing, and whilst they work with Oasis case managers, we manage their housing.

“One of them is now back at school, and the other has a licence and an apprenticeship, and they keep their home immaculate. It’s been such a great collaboration with the youth workers at Oasis.”

There is always hope for housing, and The Salvation Army’s homelessness services team on the Central Coast/Hunter never gives up.

Krysti Prytz is a Salvation Army Homelessness Case Manager who works from Eastlakes Corps in the Hunter region of New South Wales one day a week.


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