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The importance of connection for people with mental health conditions experiencing homelessness

02 August 2019 Blog
Community services Mental health
People with enduring mental health issues are one of the most disadvantaged groups in society and mental health, homelessness and isolation often go hand in hand.

This Homelessness Week, Director of St John of God Social Outreach’s Casa Venegas service Bronwyn Howlett discusses the importance of connection and social cohesion for people experiencing homelessness in improving health and wellbeing.

The importance of social connection

There is strong evidence and research that links social connection to wellbeing and good mental health.

Think about how you feel after you catch up with friends – laughing and talking about what is going on in your world. Friendships enrich our lives in profoundly meaningful ways.

The people we work with have experiences of homelessness and mental health issues and because of this have limited or no social connections.

The reasons for this can be many and vary according to the individual, but they can include previous experiences that mean they have withdrawn from contact with others, they are ashamed of their situation or have simply lost contact with people that had importance in their lives.

How Casa Venegas helps

Casa Venegas aims to break the cycle for people with enduring mental health issues who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness. We know that without stable accommodation and reliable support, the effects of persistent and severe mental health issues leave people feeling increasingly marginalised and disconnected from family, friends and the community.

Casa Venegas, based in the inner west and south west of Sydney provides secure accommodation and support to help clients start their recovery journey, gain confidence, work on their health, build positive connections and ultimately move towards a more independent and fulfilling life in the community.

In addition to employment and training, one of the main things our clients have identified that they do need is company with others and planned activities. Because of this, we work closely with clients to identify what is important to them and support them in finding ways that are meaningful to them to connect with others.

For some, it is helping them to reconnect to family, for others, it is joining a local gardening group or men’s shed.

You can probably imagine the variety of activities that our clients want to do is enormous and as such, we work with many other agencies to create opportunities for our clients to do something enjoyable and meaningful, and hopefully make a connection with others.

In partnership with other community-based services including Centacare and Disability Services Australia, we are able to provide a series of local events that enable our clients to travel to new locations, experience new activities, meet new people and form friendships. Activities this year have included regular bowling leagues, disco, and a healthy eating and learning to cook group.

We know we are succeeding when the people we support through their journey are developing the connections they need and want in their community.

We have seen clients leave the service and continue being flatmates with other Casa Venegas residents because of the friendships they have developed during their time with us. Others have travelled overseas to visit family or have made socialising with friends a core part of their life.

As a service, we strive to break the cycle of homelessness, isolation and mental health barriers by providing a stable home environment and nurturing self-esteem and independence. With all of this, our clients are able to look to the future and define the lives they want to live with meaning, dignity and greater independence. 

Bronwyn Howlett
Bronwyn Howlett - St John of God Social Outreach Casa Venegas Director
Bronwyn has extensive experience in the mental health field having worked across the continuum of care from acute inpatient to community rehabilitation and recovery services for youth, adult and older people. She has held senior leadership positions in both private and public sectors across a range of areas including mental health, homelessness, disability and out of home care. She is passionate about working with people to reach their potential and service users to create high quality services.