With recent attempts to demolish a makeshift camp in Dee Why bringing homelessness and rough sleepers back on the local agenda, Manly Observer took a step inside a local transitional housing facility to better understand its role and the people it serves.
Ebbs House is a transitional accommodation facility on Old Pittwater Rd, Brookvale. It’s run by Mission Australia. There are 26 beds divided between two premises – one mixed gender the other female-only. The staff and volunteers provide shelter and crisis support for adult men and women for up to three months, and continue this help after the tenants depart the premises.
Residents of Ebbs House are supported with case management, practical support and social connection to help them transition into sustainable housing, Mission explains on its website, which is also a portal to other assistance and emergency services.
The Brookvale centre, in which alcohol and illicit drugs are prohibited, features bedrooms with a double bed, TV, sink, and en-suite bathrooms. Ebbs House was a private boarding house prior to Mission taking on the lease and reopening it as a care facility in May 2018, hence why the rooms resemble hotel accommodation.
The opening of Ebbs House in Brookvale on 11 May 2018. Photo: Facebook
There is also a community garden with six raised sections growing vegetables and herbs, chickens strutting about, and bee ‘hotels’ for native bees. A tenant revealed ABC TV personality and landscape architect Costa Georgiadis recently filmed an episode of Gardening Australia in the Brookvale backyard.
A spokesperson said, “most of the time we have 85 per cent occupancy in Ebbs House, but there are always people on the waiting list needing accommodation for a variety of reasons. We also accept interstate referrals.”
When Manly Observer attended recently, we met former tenant Steven Coffey, who credits Ebbs House with helping him back to health and sustainability when he was in desperate circumstances.
Steve explained to Manly Observer how he fell on hard times.
“I lived on the Northern Beaches, Newport area, sometimes Avalon, where I had a building company and employed a few men… I was married. I had a child, had me own house. Relatively lucky I was…
“Then, when I got to 50, I was suddenly over everything – over the building work and looking after my employees, sometimes nursing them, sometimes chastising them, like a mother hen! I just lost it.
“I believe that I went through a male menopause. My own thinking turned on its head.
“I got divorced – my wife got the house. I saw that she was all right, and my son was alright, but I thought I could look after myself, because I’ve always been able to look after myself.”
He continued, “but there’s no fool like an old fool, you know, because then I dabbled with heroin, and before I knew it, I was relying on it, needing it. After that, everything I had went up my arm…
“This continued for 15 years until I finally decided enough is enough, and I dried out from it. But by then I was well into my 60s. I went into rehab and I was the oldest one they’d ever had there, which made me think, ‘When are you going to grow up Steve?! Not at your funeral!’ So, this is how I arrived at Mission Australia…”
He reflected on how his own dire circumstances transitioned from rock-bottom to reclaiming his life.
“I came to this place, Ebbs House, which is like a motel! I was in here for six weeks when they found me somewhere to live in Manly, then I moved into there, and everything has since settled down…
“I no longer take drugs or drink alcohol. And I feel better for it. I wake up in the morning and I’m high on not being high, you know what I mean? I’m like a puppy – if I had a tail it would be wagging!”
Steve still regularly visits Ebbs House and helps out with odd jobs, some of which utilise his building career skills, which is his way of repaying them in kindness for the kindness they showed him.
“I come here now and I do little things because I consider that I’m peddling the good spirit of mankind. I like to call it ‘polishing my spirit.’ And it makes me feel good… Helping out. I’ve done a few jobs, like put a roof on the chicken shed, plus little jobs here, there and whatnot…”
“If you see someone down and out, don’t be thinking that there’s no solution for them, or say things like ‘get them out of my sight because I don’t like the look of them!’ There are lots of ways that you could end up like them, so be kind and watch out for others…”
When this reporter visited, Steve was in the midst of assembling a flat-pack shelving unit and cracking jokes.
“I can do anything I want if I want to do, nothing stops me from doing it and mastering it,” he explained. “I’ve got a brain that can think and I’ve got a pair of hands that do exactly what my brain tells ’em. You know, I could have been a brain surgeon!
“But life is like being out in a yacht. Everything’s hunky-dory, you’re out on the deck, lying in the sun, then suddenly a storm blows up and you’re in the ocean and swimming for your life! As quick as that!
“Or you’re driving a car and you get involved in a crash and next thing you’re spending life in a wheelchair.
“And so I tell people not to get too smug about things… Have a bit of empathy. If you see someone down and out, don’t be thinking that there’s no solution for them, or say things like ‘get them out of my sight because I don’t like the look of them!’ There are lots of ways that you could end up like them, so be kind and watch out for others…”
Mission Australia’s Sydney origins
Mission Australia is a national non-denominational Christian charity that provides a range of community services throughout Australia. It’s origins date back to July 1862, when newly-arrived English immigrant Benjamin Short, an insurance agent, was appalled by the rampant poverty and destitution prevalent in inner-city Sydney and made it his mission to alleviate suffering.
At the time there were no government aid programs and no political inclination to initiate them, so he established the Sydney City Mission at the Pitt St Temperance Hall. Inspired by the London City Mission, an outreach service for the poor and needy, and with the support of numerous religious institutions and benevolent backers such as Sydney Morning Herald publisher John Fairax, he set out to bring succour and spiritual comfort to impoverished and homeless citizens, under the motto “Need, not Creed.”
By 1888, ten missionaries (one a woman) were employed to distribute food and bibles, mainly around the slums of The Rocks and inner city, and they simultaneously campaigned for people to take a vow of temperance – having identified alcoholism as a primary cause of social and personal breakdown.
Over the next fifty years, district halls all over the city were turned over to combat poverty with relief programs and religious study by selfless Mission operatives.
Many people are familiar with the Missionbeat homeless outreach service vans. Launched in 1979, they still patrol the city offering comfort and overnight accommodation to the homeless and intoxicated – focussing primarily on long-term rough sleepers.