A gift in everyone

Spirituality for those experiencing, or at risk of, homelessness, is either something that they are able to hold on to, something they question or can be something that they abandon or think has abandoned them.
Churches of Christ Housing Services is making a real difference to the lives of thousands of people by providing safe, secure and affordable housing – creating uplift in the human spirit.  

General Manager Frances Paterson-Fleider discusses the real differences being made to the lives of residents and the role of spirituality in this.

A question of calling

Anyone who has spoken with Frances or seen her advocating for housing at any number of forums would have noticed more than a touch of a Scottish accent.  While an ‘Aussie’ now, for many years Frances still occasionally has a question in the back of her mind.

“People say to me ‘why did you come to Australia?’ and I often think ‘why did I come to Australia?’ and ‘why am I in this job?’… I have bounced that around many times over seven years now, but I actually believe I was brought here for a purpose,” Frances said.  

“It wasn’t by chance, it was actually something intentional and I’ve really come to believe I was brought here for a purpose, which is to enhance the lives of more people who don’t have a voice.

“I use my voice to give them a voice and that’s why I never give. I’m always the noise in the room and always fighting in their corner, in housing’s corner, because I wouldn’t be doing my job and wouldn’t be honouring what I believe I was brought here to do – I wasn’t brought here just to keep things running smoothly, I was brought here to agitate and create some space for us to deliver more houses, more homes for people, to enhance more people’s lives.”

That drive to enhance more lives has seen the number of properties managed by Churches of Christ Housing Services rise to over 1,200 and that figure will grow by almost 10 per cent this year alone. Innovative new ways of providing housing in 2017 include an Acacia Ridge community housing complex co-funded by the Queensland Government, 50 affordable living townhouses developed on donated land and a variety of partnerships.

Point of difference

There are many housing providers who are achieving good things for their residents and stakeholders, but what sets Churches of Christ apart? It could be being part of a bigger organisation or the fact that quality housing solutions have been consistently provided for over 35 years. But for Frances it’s the whole-hearted commitment to the mission of Churches of Christ – ‘bringing the light of Christ into communities’.
“If you look at it at face value, probably all organisations have a similar mission or a similar wording, although we are very intentional in terms of using ‘God’ and ‘Christ’ whereas others might not.  We don’t hide who we are and what our intentions are,” Frances said.

“Every organisation has its mission, but we live and breathe our mission, it’s not just a statement that sits there… it’s the heart of what we are and what we do and everything we do is about delivering on that mission.

“I think that every member of staff knows the mission... I’ve worked in many organisations where no one could tell you the mission statement… but here – everyone knows it, everyone knows what it is and everything is driven towards achieving that and I think that is what sets us apart.

“We have our mission statement as part of who we are and our values are driven from that mission statement, so people come to work with us because of our values and that’s feeding into that mission.  Working in housing is not an easy job… we’ve got really well qualified people who could go and get jobs elsewhere, but they stay here because they believe in what we do and the ability of us as an organisation to actually make a difference to people’s lives.  That’s what drives us.”

Spirituality in action

According to Frances, spirituality is evident within the people that Churches of Christ Housing Services supports and accommodates. Whether that be through gaining a voice, giving back or looking after one another, spirituality is at play in communities and individuals.

“People that come to use are very grateful for the opportunity and some people are absolutely overwhelmed by the opportunity that’s been given to them to live in one of our properties,” said Frances.

“People who have been homeless or disadvantaged and have no voice have all of a sudden been given a secure property and encouraged to have some say into how their property is managed, how their community is run. We see that people are very grateful and in turn, want to give something back. Whether that’s through supporting their neighbours or volunteering, you see people want to contribute something back to the community.

“We deal with people who have been marginalised, low income and what little income they have they want to donate it to help other people… there is this sense that there is people in more need me for certain things… it’s quite uplifting to see that.

There is a Brisbane property managed by Churches of Christ, where from little or no community, grew a cohesive, connected group of residents. It’s a similar story at many of the housing complexes, where not only has bricks and mortar been provided, but also the building blocks of community-mindedness.

“You have a community of people together for the first time such as one of our complexes in Brisbane. A brand new community of people coming together in an area where historically there was no public housing, so when people put their name on the housing register they didn’t choose this particular area.  Residents weren’t forced to move there, but were encouraged to move there even though that perhaps wasn’t their community of choice.

“You bring 20 plus people, some with complex needs, with no real connections with the area, no real connections with each other together into one community – it could go one of two ways, it could be a complete disaster or it could be something where you see something great going on, and one of the strengths of us as an organisation is our chaplaincy service.

“We initiated this service with Community Chaplain Murray Thompson at the new complex and he hosted a barbeque very early on and I think that two people came out, other people were looking – but didn’t come.

“Trust is a big issue for people and some were thinking is this ‘a God thing?’… People were a bit suspicious of what was going on. But gradually over the weeks more and more attended the barbeque and a community formed, albeit fragile. We can say it was a community because at one stage if someone wasn’t seen for a number of days no one would have paid any attention or noticed, whereas (after the barbeques) we then had people raising concerns if someone was not around. That gave us hope that people were finding a connection and what was their role as part of a community – caring and showing an interest in the wellbeing of others.  

“We’ve seen that community building play out across a number of our developments, where people feel a part of something and there’s a sense of connecting and belonging. That’s one of the most important things we have created… giving someone a house is the easy part, it’s that sense of connection and bringing people together. There are people with mental health issues, people who have struggled with drug and alcohol, but showing them that they are valued, loved and they have a contribution to make and that we are interested in who they are and they are of no less value than anyone else makes the difference … unconditional love in action.”

Never give up

This is a big year for Churches of Christ Housing Services, fresh from commemorating 35 years of providing quality housing solutions. An affordable living development is underway in Kallangur, as is the construction of specialised disability housing in Crows Nest. Innovative funding models are being pursued and exciting partnerships being established. Underlying all that growth and ambition is a true sense of mission and faith in the human spirit.

“We are a mission-driven organisation, and housing is clearly mission, there’s no question about it, there’s no grey – it’s absolutely mission… because of who we are, we believed that it’s not just giving someone a house, its fostering that sense of community and in turn people start to feel connected – they ask ‘is there something bigger than me?’. They start to question their own spirituality,” Frances said.

“If we think something is the right thing to do, we approach it from one way and if we’re blocked – we ask well then how do we approach it from another way… we just never give up… we never give up on what we believe is the right thing to do and we never give up on our residents, even though some people are difficult to love, which I think is fair to say – but we never give up.

“We think there is value in every resident and it’s up to us to find that and help repair the damage that has been done through someone’s journey that brought them to where they are today.  There is a gift in everyone.”

For more stories like this, download the latest edition of Networking.

Posted March 2, 2017 in Networking blog