I have been Chair of Micah Projects Board for the past eight months since the resignation of the previous Chair. As reported last year, Micah Projects transitioned to a new legal structure as a not-for-profit company which took effect on 1 July 2017.
Since our formation as a company, we strove to achieve a shared understanding of the culture, mission and vision of Micah Projects. A vision grounded in shared leadership while respecting the differing roles of staff, participants, management and the Board. As this process unfolded, differences of style and opinions led to four Directors choosing to resign. I thank these Directors for their contribution during their time on the Board, before and during the transition process.
I also thank the members of the inaugural nomination committee for their work in identifying suitable candidates for election to the 2018/19 Board.
This year marks my last year as a Board member after 23 years. I have been with Micah Projects since its beginnings in the St Mary’s parish house in South Brisbane.
We were situated next to St Mary’s church and the Oz Care men’s hostel whose limited accommodation saw many people sleeping rough around the church. One of our first tasks was to help improve the lives of those who found the church grounds their only home. I still remember our first meetings to determine how we would respond to the immense needs surrounding our inner city precinct. These meetings took place in what was once the old presbytery lounge room, and our front office—once the kitchen—was the centre of all our operations.
Since this time I have worked with remarkable people who have given their all to improve the lives of others. Not least of these remarkable people is the instigator and inspiration for Micah Projects, Karyn Walsh. Karyn has been the life-blood of the organisation. Her passion for social justice is the ground from which she lives and acts. Her ability to empathise with the people she serves has always impressed me. Her vision and ability to identify possibilities and act daringly has led to the success of Micah Projects.
Micah Projects has grown from the grassroots commitment of the people of St Mary’s Catholic Community—now St Mary’s in Exile—and has since grown to an organisation providing services to thousands of people in Brisbane with sites extending to Lotus Place in Rockhampton and Townsville.
We value our community’s ongoing support—with 150 people signing up as members of Micah Projects Limited— and the contribution of people from workplaces, faith communities, clubs, and philanthropic organisations, who support us to engage with the most vulnerable in our community. As poverty and social isolation continue to spread across Australia, we remain committed to connecting people, ending homelessness and linking people with resources and opportunities. This year’s report highlights what we have been doing and those who assist us.
With the very fine people who work at Micah I am confident that the organisation will continue to go from strength to strength.
Terry Fitzpatrick, Chairperson
Over the past twenty years Micah Projects has been on a journey with many individuals and families who have walked with us. They shared the responsibility to create services that assist each person with a disability to live with dignity, and in the community.
We have seen the transition in policy settings from institutional care, to creating systems of care and support in the community through not-for-profit and community organisations, to now transitioning to the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Micah Projects first started this journey with public meetings and a commitment that we as an organisation would support a vision of deinstitutionalisation, as part of our vision to create justice and respond to injustice in our community.
So it was with disability advocates, family members, a lot of passion and very little resources that we started the journey with Geraldine, Michele and Roberta to create a home at Rembrandt Street, Carina. Their lives and our experience as an organisation will always be entwined as they taught us what Eleanor Roosevelt described:
“Where after all do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close they cannot be seen on a map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: The neighbourhood he/she lives in; the school or college he/she attends; the factory, the farm or office where he/she works. Such are the places were every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity and equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
As Micah Projects engaged more with people living on the streets of Brisbane it was no surprise—but it was a shock—to discover so many people with disability living on the streets, in boarding houses and privately-owned hostels. Some had packages of support that were not being accessed due to disengagement. Our journey was marked by significant policy change focusing attention on the quality of boarding houses and privately-owned hostels which opened the door for new relationships and passion.
Thanks to the creative insights and energy of Kay Johnston from the Supported Accommodation Providers Association and Mal Causer from Micah Projects, we undertook a pilot program funded by Queensland Government for service provision in boarding houses—’Boarding House Blues’. This was followed by funding for what was originally referred to as Community Linking Program and later became the Resident Support Program.
The years of facilitating peer support through Campbell’s Club and Moonlight Magic Dinner Dance has been a lot of fun and has complemented personal and individually focussed support work with people whose day to day living is in their home, their neighbourhood. Despite the limitations, the staff who have worked alongside people have gone above and beyond what any job description has asked in making the possibility of equal justice, equal opportunity and equal dignity a reality.
Around 2006 we received funding for ‘Homefront’ to support individuals with a disability to reside in affordable housing or social housing. This was a great initiative to finally enable people to move off the streets and into their own home.
Over 100 people transitioned from homelessness to housing with ongoing support around their health, family and cultural connections. We applied the evidence-based Supportive Housing program to people living in scattered housing in the community. People have lived in a home, in a neighbourhood, and with over 90% sustained tenancy rates and improved quality of life. Our vision of ending homelessness and supporting people who experienced childhood abuse in institutional care has been reinforced. The evidence showed that all it takes is the commitment to connect housing with services and change happens. People themselves create new lives with new resources—equal opportunity, equal dignity.
Not only does it happen in small places, close to home, unseen on any map, but it changes systems as people become less reliant on emergency services, hospitals and acute mental health services. They experience less discrimination which leads to reduced levels of engagement with police and the criminal justice system.
The formation of ‘The Hive’ team through Home and Community Care funding complemented and extended our ability to reduce social isolation and build community. This has been achieved through creative arts, creative expression, shared meals, facilitating transport and coordinating events.
The dedication of all the people who have been part of our journey—names too many to mention—is what has made this journey so worthwhile. At the heart of Micah Projects is the connection between staff and the people we work with. Our staff in all these years have kept close the values and actions of equal justice, equal opportunity and equal dignity without discrimination. That we as human beings are both the same and different. That we share the right to be respected for our differences and capabilities.
We would never have had such a rich journey if it was not for the voices of the participants in the programs we provide. They have told us what they need to create a home, to be connected to services and community, to move from living without dignity as they experienced it—beyond the trauma and isolation of the past and being in community in a different way.
As a woman said to me recently:
“It’s not easy moving from the shame of an invisible life. My childhood, my life as an adult has been marked by shame that has not all been of my own making. I have made mistakes but I have also experienced abuse at the hands of others. I have been on the streets feeling like no one cared, living with the indignity that comes with being destitute, even being locked out of toilets.
I will never forget the first night in my home—the relief that a toilet was mine, and mine alone. I know I cannot do things alone. I have a disability—but I also know now that with some support, services, things to go to that are free, comes new things that I had never imagined would be part of my life a few years ago.
I am scared now with all this change I could lose my home, and I will be on the merry-go-round again of hospital, streets, jail. I am going to once again lose my connection with people who are different to me, but also the same. Paid or unpaid whose kindness and interest in me has made such a difference. It scares me the thought of so much loneliness and being invisible again.”
2017–2018 has marked the beginning of the end for these programs as they each cease and transition to the NDIS. It is my hope that for Micah Projects this is not an end but a fork in the road. There is no doubt that social capital, wisdom and relationships are going to be affected by change, but as Eleanor Roosevelt stated “without concerted citizen action to uphold [human rights] close to home, we shall look in vain
for progress in the larger world”. Micah Projects holds a bold vision to create justice and respond to injustice in our community—and we do so deliberately and intentionally so that we can make progress both close to home and in the larger world.
I thank the Board, Leadership Team and all our staff across all the aspects of our work that are highlighted in this year’s annual report. Your contribution and effort is what makes the difference.
It is teamwork that moves us forward and to everyone who has worked with us this year, I thank you for contributing to our learning, growth and vision.
Karyn Walsh, CEO
“What I love about my work is the amazing resilience of the people we work with despite their difficult circumstances, isolation and fluctuating mental health.”
Mal, Resident Support Program. Staff member for 16 years.