A Christmas miracle of light, life and connection in Tassie
Christmas is traditionally a time of connection, family and friendship, but, for many, the reality is very different. Christmas can be the time when loneliness and isolation are felt most deeply. When the Salvos took over management of an already tenanted community housing complex, manager Rachel and her team were determined to build community connection — and banish the terrible sense of fear and isolation they discovered tenants were experiencing.
There was a happy buzz of chatter and a great deal of laughter, as members of a Tasmanian community housing complex shared a meal and swapped Christmas gifts. Despite freezing weather, pouring rain and a lot of hard work to organise this and a range of other Christmas parties, Salvation Army Housing Tasmania (SAHT) housing manager Rachel couldn’t wipe the grin from her face.
“I couldn’t stop smiling,” she says.
For Rachel and the tenants enjoying the party, the Christmas lunch was so much more than simply a fun event. It was a major breakthrough!
Building a community from isolation
More than six years ago, when the Salvos took over management of the housing complex, staff discovered drug-related crime was rampant and tenants were fearful and isolated. Most chose to stay locked in and locked away from each other.
“There were drug dealers on site, so it meant going back and forth going to court to sort out the issues and offering support and referrals,” Rachel says.
The small Salvos team, headed by Rachel, worked radically to improve security — installing security screens, cameras and lights that were funded through a grant. Some tenants were offered referrals and other housing alternatives.
“[The tenants asked for] a vegetable garden, so we had tenant engagement meetings for the community garden. I love gardening myself, so regularly bring in seedlings and swap produce,” she says.
A Christmas party was also planned to help encourage community connection.
The first year, only two people turned up.
Rachel says, “Last Christmas [a year on], more than half the tenants showed up for the Christmas celebration, despite the really terrible weather. And you could see they felt safe and they [now] knew and cared for each other.”
Meeting a range of community housing needs
The complex is one of 194 properties managed by SAHT — an affordable, long term community housing services provider in Tasmania.
With some tenants coming from backgrounds of disadvantage, homelessness and/or struggles with mental health, the SAHT team offers layers of support beyond housing, including referrals to additional Salvation Army services and to a wide range of external service providers.
As an additional layer of support, all new tenants are given a tenant welcome basket filled with essentials such as tea bags, cleaning items and pegs. The SAHT team also offers vouchers to be used at Salvation Army stores for household items and clothing. Other donated furniture is also stored and offered if new tenants are short of furniture.
Christmas care in Tassie housing
In the middle of each year, Rachel starts slowly buying food to make up almost 200 Christmas hampers (with families in need also receiving children’s toys that come from donations).
“Last Christmas it was 194 hampers, so from June to Christmas I had non-perishable food stashed absolutely everywhere I could fit it and kept adding to it as the date came closer,” Rachel says. “It was quite funny!
“We also organised small gifts and a funny gift draw for this, and another complex, for their Christmas parties and the tenants loved it. If they got something they knew someone else needed they swapped it. It was a lot of fun.”
If you are facing financial difficulties, hardship or have no one to celebrate with, The Salvation Army can help make this Christmas a good one.
Over time, Rachel says the whole atmosphere has changed in the complex that had been so troubled.
“I know from experience that every little bit of support and community-building helps,” Rachel says.
“If you can help somebody just one little bit, then they will help another person. It’s all about building a healthy community and building good relationships. So in that complex, they now look after one another. Say if someone needs sugar, they can ask their neighbours and no problem. We have a gentleman who has been in the complex for 16 years, who will now go and pick flowers and leave them at the door for his neighbours.
“There’s a very healthy sense of community ownership now,” Rachel says. “And that is a great thing to be a part of.”
Share the light of goodness with people who are doing it tough this year — so nobody struggles alone.