Comment from Acting CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society, Dr Les Baxter:
On August 3, 2021, the then Deputy Premier, the Hon. Jeremy Rockliff, announced funding and a commitment to progress more crisis accommodation for men in Hobart.
In a media statement at the time, the now Premier Rockliff said that the Tasmanian Liberal Government is ensuring more men who are homeless have safe, secure, and modern accommodation, with a new shelter planned for Hobart.
This commitment to combat homelessness in Hobart by the Tasmanian Government has taken the form of the New Bethlehem House, which will be operated by the St Vincent de Paul Society when it is completed in mid-late 2023.
The St Vincent de Paul Society has always maintained that a cooperative approach between governments, the private sector, and the not-for-profit sector is by far the best way to achieve positive, sustainable outcomes for people in need. The New Bethlehem House is a significant example of this philosophy in practice.
Once completed, New Bethlehem House will offer an additional 50-bed crisis and transitional accommodation, modern facility on the former Waratah Hotel carpark site.
The new facility will provide more capacity with 24 crisis beds, 18 transitional units, and eight units specifically designed for people with mental illness. The new Bethlehem House will complement the 24-bed supported accommodation facility that has been operating on-site since the beginning of the year.
The design includes lounge areas, recreational space, and a cafeteria-style kitchen, as well as a manual workshop training room for skills development.
It is important to note that all Bethlehem House facilities serve to offer shelter to the homeless as well as the critical wrap-around services that are essential to afford resident the very best support and opportunity to rebuild their lives and re-enter the community.
Comment from Executive Manager of Bethlehem House, Ian Robertson:
Along with St Vincent de Paul Society’s other facilities in Hobart, the New Bethlehem House will be utilised to ensure we can continue to deliver better services and meet the growing demand from homeless men, and those at risk of homelessness, in the community.
There is demand across Hobart for the critical services provided by Bethlehem House. However, local demand is not the only cohort of people in need to whom we offer assistance. People are travelling to Tasmania from interstate as a cohort of homeless. In short, over the past two years, Bethlehem House is experiencing greater demand for assistance and support from within Tasmania and interstate.
Bethlehem House is recognised as offering a high standard of service, professional help, and assistance to the homeless to integrate back into the community. The New Bethlehem House, with a dedicated mental health capability unit, will allow us to deliver an even better service to those men in need.
Many of the men that come to Bethlehem House, if not all of them, suffer from various levels of mental health illness. Before they reach the point where we can assist them to ease back into the community, and able to fend for themselves, we need to help them with the psychosocial issues.
The original Bethlehem House, which is a Special Work of the St Vincent de Paul Society, has been in continuous operation since 1972.
On September 10, 1972, the St Vincent de Paul Society opened an overnight shelter for homeless men in Warwick Street, Hobart. It quickly became the primary charity in Hobart for homeless men; supported by a dedicated and caring group of Vincentian volunteers from local conferences.
In those days, the doors of Bethlehem House opened at 5pm each night. Guests were given a towel and pyjamas and were required to vacate the shelter by 8am the next morning.
The assumption was that the men who used the service were temporarily homeless. The initial plan to offer homeless men a bed for one or two nights until they could secure stable accommodation was soon challenged. It became clear that the issues facing the guests of Bethlehem House were far more nuances and complex.
Many were alcoholics, others faced the challenges associated with mental illness, and some faced the prospect of permanent homelessness.
Partially due to the advocacy work of the national St Vincent de Paul Society, the Australian Government introduced the ‘Homeless Person’s Assistance Act, 1974. The Government provided much-needed assistance to homeless people and the Society was able to offer additional daytime support.
By 1977, Bethlehem House had added a modern annex behind the original heritage building, which included 20 new beds, a kitchen and dining facility, and a medical centre.
There is a large courtyard and a wall of remembrance that carries the inscribed plaques of over 300 men who have passed through Bethlehem House and sadly passed away. The average age of death for these homeless men is less than 50 years old.
In 2007, with funding from a bequest and the St Vincent de Paul Society, Hobart Regional Council, Bethlehem House was able to purchase another smaller four-bedroom house close to the original facility. Named Hallam House, it was officially opened by the then-Governor of Tasmania, the Honourable William Cox.
In 2017, Bethlehem House received a further, generous bequest, which is reserved to enable the organisation to develop appropriate new services and facilities to meet the needs of homeless men for years to come. The interest from this bequest is helping to provide essential services and well-being activities.
Over the years, Bethlehem House has changed significantly to meet the needs of disadvantaged men living in the Hobart community. The St Vincent de Paul Society still assists a wide range of homeless men; many of whom have and continue to experience problems with family and relationship breakdown, mental health issues, alcohol and substance abuse, and periods of unemployment and/or imprisonment.
MEDIA NOTES: The St Vincent de Paul Society was founded in Paris, France in 1833 by a 20-year old Italian student, Frederic Ozanam. Today, the Society operates in 153 countries and has over 800,000 members. Australia has over 60,000 members, dedicated to assisting people in need and combating social injustice. The Society started in Tasmania in 1899 when founders established a Conference in Launceston. From humble beginnings, the Society has grown to 25 Conferences within three Regional Councils across Tasmania. Each Conference undertake a variety of good works, the most recognised being the traditional Vincentian home visits and the annual CEO Sleep-out to draw attention to homelessness.
Media contact, Mark Wells: +61 414 015 966 (24-hours)
© St Vincent de Paul Society and MWPA.