When houses become homes, homes become communities

Churches of Christ Housing Services is a leading provider of affordable and social housing for people facing financial difficulties or tenure insecurity. While a stable home is the foundation to better wellbeing, for many, securing a home is just the start of a journey. It’s a journey that can prove challenging for many. Churches of Christ in Queensland’s unique, self-funded Community Chaplain Program means that the housing journey is one that residents don’t have to ‘walk’ alone.

Ahead of the completion of Churches of Christ Housing Service’s latest development at Bongaree on Bribie Island, we spoke with Bribie Island Housing Chaplain Luke Finlay to find out more about how chaplains walk the housing journey with residents.

Established in 2010 the chaplaincy program focusses on nurturing healthy communities that are safe, inclusive and empowering.  Housing Chaplains provide vital support to many residents, whether they are new or long-time residents.  This ‘wrap-around support service’ works on building people’s resilience. As a key presence on the ground they engage heavily in supporting individuals who need it. A proactive approach to community development also creates space for relatives, neighbours and the wider community to be involved and uplifted.  Community development is focussed on building capacity and empowering people to take control of their lives.

“Each tenant comes with different life experiences and has a different future ahead of them. Many of our tenants present with complex issues requiring support in order to sustain their tenancy. Past events continue to have an impact on their everyday lives. These events can happen to any one of us, and while most people just need some security and stability to get back on track, many need ongoing support.  That’s where I come in. I’m able to offer pastoral care to those who need it for as long as they do,” Luke said.

“A safe place to call home means people are better able to deal with other aspects of their life such as their mental health, education, employment and community participation. It’s not rocket science, we all need somewhere to feel safe and secure before we can sort out the more difficult things. I’ve been a Housing Chaplain for eight years now, I get to see first-hand why it can take some time before someone feels their house is a home.  I’ve seen how, when they are feeling safe and secure in their homes, they are better able to look beyond their homes. With support they soon feel empowered and are able to play a role in creating ‘community’ where they live.

“Our award-winning Social Club in Bongaree is a case in point.  The Club has been a lifeline to many.  The residents have done it all.  They have demonstrated how a small group of individuals – most in their twilight years – can work together successfully and productively and in doing so support each other through the good times and the bad. This is what building communities is all about,” he said.

Churches of Christ in Queensland’s approach as a developer is simple—improve living standards through simple yet effective design strategies. Social and community housing makes a vital contribution to the creation of vibrant and diverse communities.  It’s very much a safety net for people who face barriers to sustaining a tenancy in the private rental market or who struggle to find accommodation that meets their physical needs.  It’s the foundation for a new beginning.

Mid 2021, Churches of Christ Housing Services will expand the housing offering at Bongaree when 83 new seniors apartments become available. Chaplain Luke will be front and centre to support the residents as they start on their new housing journey. These new residents will come from across the Moreton Bay Region, relocating from under occupied public housing. For many people, a modern, easy to manage unit is a welcome alternative to a large family home they can no longer maintain. Built in partnership with the Department of Housing and Public Works, North Lakes-based Cornerstone Construction commenced construction on the development in January 2020.

Cornerstone’s Director of Business Development and Group Services, Ben Child said, “We understand Churches of Christ Housing Services key drivers in this development and as organisations, our values are very much aligned.  

“Our mission statement is ‘creating thriving communities’ so we like to think that we are the starting point of the housing journey Chaplain Luke talks about. These apartments will be high quality homes, providing somewhere not only for residents to live, but rather to live life to the fullest. The foundation to a better future. Externally, the apartments will not look out of place in any residential street and that’s no accident. Modern developments like Bongaree present an opportunity to change the way social housing is traditionally viewed.

“At Cornerstone, we are very conscious that we are working with Churches of Christ Housing Services to build new opportunities for individuals, and lasting communities. In fact, I’d say it goes even further than that. The construction industry has significant impacts on society—environmentally, economically and socially. While the environmental and economic sustainability aspects of a build receive most focus, social sustainability aspects are often overlooked. Social sustainability is about expanding opportunities for all people, today and tomorrow. We are aware of the social element in what we do and how we do it. Not only are we changing the landscape with this build, we are changing the lives of the people who will live here. We are creating the starting point of their new housing journey. We are creating a lasting legacy.”