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Refurbished Sydney shelter leading the way from homelessness to hope

Building works are complete after a 12-month major upgrade to Wesley Edward Eagar Centre in Surry Hills. And the centre opened just ahead of lockdown, giving people experiencing homelessness in inner-city Sydney somewhere safe to stay.

Located on Bourke Street, the centre has provided crisis accommodation to countless vulnerable women and men since 1979 and remained essentially unchanged until recently.

The upgrade means significant improvements to the rooms and facilities for clients and staff and includes restoration of the heritage-listed façade and sandstone chapel, dating back to 1847.

Wesley Mission CEO and Superintendent, Rev Stu Cameron, says that the nearly 300 people sleeping rough on Sydney’s inner-city streets every night were at the heart of this innovative project.

“Entrenched homelessness is complex and can involve a combination of mental illness, domestic violence, family breakdown, financial difficulties and the cumulative impact of multiple traumatic events. A person can’t just walk out of homelessness on their own. That’s where Wesley Mission is ready to come alongside.

“With client outcomes in mind, the centre has been redesigned to promote individual and group wellbeing. Improved privacy, security and dignity will set a new standard for crisis accommodation in Sydney,” he says.

Award-winning architects Scott Carver created plans for soothing new spaces to significantly improve clients’ experience, replacing smaller basic rooms with larger rooms containing ensuite bathrooms, more personal storage and natural light. Each accommodation floor has a communal kitchenette, laundry and living spaces.

A new lift will help improve accessibility, while new offices, counselling rooms and a rooftop terrace with private space for clients and staff contribute to an empowered, trauma-informed environment.

“In every detail of our refurbished centre, we have made careful choices to communicate the value and worth we see in each person. Can a building change the way you feel about yourself? I like to think this one can,” Mr Cameron says.

Wesley Edward Eagar Centre has been at the forefront of the evolution of care for people experiencing homelessness for more than 40 years. It was one of the first services to provide private rooms.

Builders, Lipman and their contractors, and Wesley Mission staff and volunteers worked tirelessly to ensure the long-anticipated project remained on track during COVID-19 restrictions. During the works, Wesley Mission relocated clients to other accommodation.

“There’s a tremendous amount of gratitude and excitement in this last phase because it signals an important new chapter for those we’re able to support, but also for the local neighbourhood and our broader Wesley Mission family,” he says.

“It is also a product of people’s compassion to commit to doing better for our most vulnerable citizens. City of Sydney has contributed $1 million toward the $12 million needed to complete the refurbishment, and more philanthropic organisations, corporates and individual donors will help us open the doors again soon.

“We’re taking a huge step forward to help people take their first step out of homelessness, to begin to hope again. And once you have hope, a lot of other things become possible.”

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