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Haymarket Foundation’s healthcare for homeless wins HESTA

CHIPPENDALE: The Haymarket Foundation Medical Practice team has won a 2022 HESTA Impact Award for its dedication to providing accessible, specialist healthcare and housing support services for people experiencing, or who are at risk of, homelessness.

“It’s a huge recognition of the work we’ve been doing,” said the foundation’s CEO Peter Valpiani. “It’s been such a difficult time for both the health and social services sector over the last couple of years and finding a bit more extra motivation to keep going and to keep pushing at a time like this has been brilliant.”

The Haymarket Foundation’s homelessness services – including its crisis accommodation facilities and pilot medical practice (established in July 2021) – are currently based in Chippendale. The foundation’s alcohol and other drugs services operate out of Woolloomooloo.

The precursor to this practice was a green caravan set up in 1974 on the weighbridge serving Paddy’s Market in the Haymarket area – an initiative of Dr Charles Blower, who was Deputy Medical Director of Sydney Hospital, with the support of the hospital and the City of Sydney.

The Haymarket clinic was a Commonwealth-funded service but had to close in 2016 due to government funding reforms. The reforms also meant any new medical practice set up by the foundation would need to be a self-sustaining social enterprise predominantly funded through Medicare.

Pilot findings over the last year have led the foundation to commit $2.2 million to upgrading premises in Pitt Street near Central station offered for long-term use by Christ Church St Laurence and with occupancy paid for by the church’s charitable trust.

The DA for the new clinic has been submitted and Mr Valpiani envisages the purpose-built, specialist general practice should be up and running in 2022.

“What we’ve developed during the pilot is a a bespoke service for somebody who is experiencing homelessness, or has been recently housed, or is at risk of homelessness,” Mr Valpiani said.

“The feedback’s been pretty good – and our patients have actually been part of the journey with us as we’re developing and maturing the service.”

The practice’s new premises are designed to support the team’s vision to provide patient-led, trauma-informed, accessible care by being safe, comfortable and inviting.

Providing a long-term medical home and continuity of care, storing x-rays, reminding people of specialist appointments, and offering high-quality chronic care and counselling is also pivotal.

Mr Valpiani said there is a strong correlation between health and housing: If you’ve got a safe place to live and a lot of stability, you can look after your health more effectively.

“What we saw in sharp focus during Covid is that if you’re asked to self-isolate, for example, to stay safe, it is very hard to do that if you’re in a boarding house or you’re in a crisis service or you’re rough sleeping on the street.”

Mr Valpiani’s team tackles health and housing together: helping patients to set health goals and assessing what kinds of housing support will make the most difference.

“We’ll help the person to fill in the social housing medical assessment forms, for example, or we’ll help them navigate an NDIS pathway, or a disability pathway, so we can help them get into a house. But we can also help identify what kind of house is appropriate.”

Mr Valpiani said his team is made up of skilled practitioners and keen problem solvers who have a huge capacity for empathy. They’re also patient and resilient, which is critical as they assist patients to navigate strained health and housing systems.

“I think the government can do more in terms of the investment in social affordable housing in Australia. It’s incredibly difficult for somebody to get out of homelessness if they’ve got nothing they can afford and there simply isn’t enough housing stock available that is either social housing or it’s affordable for somebody who’s on a very low income.

“Also, when people are in a really complex and chaotic time in their life, it can sometimes be really difficult to navigate a fractured system or a system that isn’t always intuitive.

“A whole-of-government approach to homelessness that streamlines services to make it easier for people to access the support they need when they need it, would be of great benefit.”




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