The St Vincent de Paul Society’s Bethlehem House opened its doors in Hobart, Tasmania in September 1972. Since then, it has provided accommodation and support for people experiencing homelessness. In its early days, Bethlehem House operated as an overnight shelter. Since then, it has expanded its services and is now acknowledged as the primary homeless charity in Hobart. It has strong support from the community, State and Federal Governments, and Vincentian volunteers from local St Vincent de Paul Society Conferences.
In the beginning, Bethlehem House provided older men with a place to sleep overnight. The doors opened at five O’clock each night, residents were given a towel and pyjamas, and they had to leave by eight O’clock the next morning. The assumption was that the men who used the service were only temporarily experiencing homelessness. It soon became clear that the men had complex needs, including Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, mental health challenges, and permanent experiencing of homelessness. As a result of identifying these issues – and the introduction of the Homeless Persons Assistance Act, 1974 – the government provided assistance so that Bethlehem House could offer additional daytime support.
By 1977, Bethlehem House had grown with the addition of 20 new beds, a kitchen, a dining facility, and a medical centre; contained in a modern annex behind the original Warwick Street heritage building.
The Dominican Sisters assisted Bethlehem House by providing spiritual support and hard work. This determination helped to save Bethlehem house from closure in 1981, when finances could not keep pace with demand.
Over the years, Bethlehem House has changed to meet the needs of disadvantaged men living in the community. We still help a wide range of people experiencing homelessness, many of whom have experienced problems with family and relationship breakdown, mental health issues, alcohol and substance abuse, and periods of unemployment and/or imprisonment. In 2007, we were able to buy another smaller four-bedroom house close to Bethlehem House using money we received from a bequest and additional funding from the St Vincent de Paul Society. Hallam House and was officially opened by the then-Governor of Tasmania, the Honourable William Cox and has served the needs of people experiencing homelessness to this day.
In 2017, Bethlehem House received another generous bequest, which is reserved to develop new services and facilities to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness. The interest earned from this bequest is helping to provide essential services and well-being activities. It is this type of generous bequest assistance, along with the commitment of volunteers and donations from other Tasmanian businesses and individuals, that continue to make all the difference to the lives of the people experiencing homelessness in Hobart.
As a testament to the memories of hundreds of men who have lived at Bethlehem House at one time or another over the past 50+ years, there is a large courtyard and a wall of remembrance. The wall displays inscribed plaques dedicated to the 300 men who have since passed away, at an average age of death of under 50 years of age. They are and will always be remembered.