For almost 20 years, a program in Adelaide’s south has been transforming the lives of people with mental health challenges experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
Avalon provides an essential stepping stone on people’s pathway to independence by offering stable accommodation and psychosocial support when they need it most.
Ten people take part in the program at any one time, living in a group of units where they are provided support to address life challenges and work towards achieving their goals.
Tenants stay at Avalon for around 18 months, at which point they are supported to transition to independent housing in the community.
UnitingSA Coordinator Wendy Rowe and Community Support Worker Seth Rowlands are the small team having a big impact at Avalon, which is run in partnership with Unity Housing, Southern Mental Health Services and the SA Housing Authority.
Wendy says it is a “privilege” to work for the program, which at its essence offers a different support pathway for each individual who enters its doors.
“The main objective of Avalon is to support people’s independent living skills so they can go on to sustain long-term housing in the community, but what that looks like is different for each person,” Wendy says.
“Whether the focus is on housing, employment, training, connecting with the community, building their strengths with communication or accessing the NDIS – the support for each person is tailored to their individual needs.
“If they aren’t big on attending groups, they have more one-on-one support and vice versa.
“It’s this flexibility that makes Avalon so unique.”
Seth is responsible for providing the frontline support for Avalon tenants – a role he finds incredibly rewarding and diverse.
“For example, one of our clients is heavily focussed on reunification with her children so I support her to attend appointments and work towards achieving her goals,” he says.
“Another client’s goals are more about becoming independent and learning living skills such as cooking and cleaning in order to be able to maintain long-term housing, so I support them with that.”
Seth says that by taking away the housing insecurity in people’s lives, it allows them to focus on addressing other areas of challenge and make strides towards achieving goals.
“What all of our tenants have in common is that they have had difficulty with housing, so when they come into the program we offer this strong pillar of housing support,” he says.
“They know they have a roof over their head for 18 months and this stability leads to them being able to redirect their energies to other parts they would like to focus and improve on.
“Our clients view Avalon as a sanctuary.”
A key part of the program’s success comes from the intake process, which aims to ensure tenants are “Avalon-ready”.
“We are not crisis accommodation and we are not here 24 hours a day,” Seth explains. “So it’s important to determine who is ready for this space and who we think can really succeed in this environment.”
UnitingSA Mental Health Services Manager Anna Sutherland says it takes a high level of skill to create and maintain the therapeutic environment that exists at Avalon – something both Wendy and Seth consistently demonstrate.
“Avalon is incredible in its ability to support tenants, who often have exited hospital and have a significant history of trauma, to live side by side and interact positively,” Anna says.
“This is due to the extensive effort on the parts of both Wendy and Seth, in collaboration with the program partners, to ensure they provide a program in which tenants feel safe enough to begin to identify their goals and look to the future with hope of recovery.”
Over the years, Avalon has supported many people living with mental health challenges to successfully transition from housing insecurity to independent living in the community.
For Wendy and Seth, this is the most rewarding part of the job.
“We see them day in and day out. We see them at their best, we see them at their worst. It’s amazing getting to grow with them through that period,” Seth says.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than travelling with a client and seeing them hit every goal and to see everything work out for them.
“And it’s phenomenal to see their continuing success once they leave here.
“It’s such an important model – I’d love to see a few more Avalons in the community.”
Wendy agrees: “For a lot of our people, they didn’t come from a safe family. Avalon has that feeling of safety and family. It’s just wonderful to be able to give people that,” she says.
“We both genuinely love what we do and we feel very blessed to be in the position we are in. It’s a privilege – we love this program.”
To find out more about Avalon, download our Fact Sheet.
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If you require urgent mental health support, or are experiencing a mental health emergency or crisis, please get in touch with one of these support services.
More resources can be found at the Mental Health Coalition of South Australia website.