Support teams ease the way as vacancy date looms

Sharon Kemp | Bendigo Weekly | 21-Dec-2017

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Central City Caravan Park this week.
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IT has been more than a year since the vacancy notice, but the time has come when all residents must leave the Central City Caravan Park.

And most have, the exception being a few who have decided to find their own exit from the secure and familiar community of the park, into a foreign world of private rentals, public housing or moving in with the kids.

It has been a stressful year for most of the 58 people who owned a residence at the caravan park, ideally located in the heart of Golden Square, a bus trip from the city centre, affordable and with its own swimming pool, maintained grounds and security.

But in November last year, park manager Christine Norman called a meeting, and upset, handed out notices to vacate by December 29, 2017.

She and husband John had been told by the land owners their lease would not be renewed, and everything must be gone by March 2018.

Shortly after this, support services moved in to offer support to the residents.

They found many of them stressed about the prospect that they would be homeless.

“A lot of the people were elderly, some had medical needs and the personal toll on the residents was enormous,” Haven; Home, Safe support services general manager Donna Gillard said.

“The stress of moving, some of them had been there for up to 15 years.”

Now they would have to navigate the rental market, a different public transport system and a new household budget. The caravan park’s affordable sites had attracted residents who had limited incomes. 

The commentary at the time was that it would be difficult to house them in Bendigo where affordable rentals are scarce and the sale of their house at the park was unlikely to bring enough to buy somewhere else.

Still, moving was inevitable.

“It is just changing their whole life basically,” Ms Gillard said.

“Budgeting was a big part of it, they would then have to connect the utilities so that was an extra cost on top of that they were paying.

“A lot of them didn’t understand different rent models, they didn’t want to move into public housing.

“So a lot of the work that [Haven] did was around just explaining how things worked because if you haven’t had to rent a property in the last 16 years, you wouldn’t know.”

Communications director Sue Masters said she remembered in the early weeks the shock that greeted the announcement.

“My understanding in very general terms is that in the very beginning there was some resistance and that is to be expected,” she said.

“Some of the tenants down there were hoping there would be a change of heart, that was never going to be case but I think they were in denial.

“There was such a long lead time, in those circumstances, it is quite common for people to want to put that off.

“But as time has moved on, they came to realise the decision wasn’t going to be reversed, the park was definitely closing.

“People came to that conclusion in their own time.

“Initially there was a lot of discussion, (the City of Greater Bendigo) was heavily involved in the beginning, as was the Department of Health and Human Services.

“There was a lot of discussion between them and the caravan park manager, and in the very early days, advocacy group Housing for the Aged Action Group was engaged, so there was a number of different people all working together to bring around the best solution for the tenants who were there.”

Ms Gillard said when it was time to organise the move “a lot of them were really willing to engage with the support, but some people didn’t want the support, or didn’t need it”.

“We captured everyone at the beginning and everyone was assessed and then it was their choice whether or not they engaged,” she said.

“Right throughout the process our services were voluntary.”

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