Manager of HOME in Queanbeyan Anne Pratt loves nothing more than to walk with people on their worst of days.
Anne had already walked through her worst days after her husband Bernie took his life after a battle with mental illness nearly 20 years ago. Now, Anne’s home away from home is a place residents aged between 36 and 67 can call home and Anne is their defacto mother.
HOME in Queanbeyan is a one-of-a-kind facility in the region that began as a throw-away idea and became a sanctuary for people who would otherwise have been institutionalised through their mental illness. It was built on the back of community support, receives no government funding and relies on at least $250,000 a year in donations.
HOME is currently home to 19 permanent residents, while one unit is kept for referrals.
When Anne was approached by Father Peter Day in 2005 to create a place with support accommodation for people with chronic mental illness, she knew she wanted to be involved.
“Not a refuge, but something along the lines of a retirement village,” was Fr Peter’s pledge.
After marking its 10th anniversary earlier this year, HOME in Queanbeyan residents also celebrated Anne’s 65th birthday this week – without fanfare but with plenty of laughs from the team of workers and volunteers who are the community it takes to make a home.
“As a team, we often talk about seeing people’s lives change, and for the residents to allow you to walk with them during their worst and their best of days is a complete privilege,” Anne tells Region Media.
“It’s an indescribable love that you have for them. We try to leave them with something that helps them through each day.”
Anne first saw the daily struggles that her husband dealt with when her own children were young.
“It was a very difficult period of my life, but one where I realised where my heart was, but I don’t look back and have only grown stronger because of what happened and the way mental illness and depression is dealt with,” Anne says.
“I saw the need because people were either homeless because of their mental illness or some of them lived in a house without that love and support.”
A message regarding COVID 19 from our Manager, Anne Pratt.
Posted by HOME in Queanbeyan on Tuesday, April 21, 2020
It took four years from concept to conception of HOME and there were many obstacles, but Anne says the proof is in the residents, many of whom are long-term residents such as Rick, who loves to talk about fishing.
Their weekly Wednesday workouts tend to be an exercise in laughing out loud, while there is a regular run of people who pop in to make a meal or do whatever they can to keep HOME running.
“There’s a level of expertise here, but no ego,” says Anne. “We have a great team here and every one of them is a huge part of my life.
“It’s also something that reflects the amazing community of Queanbeyan. We’re small enough to have that village feel but we’re big enough to actually do something and the community here and also in Canberra supports us so wonderfully.
“Our residents pay their own rent and power. They get a meal and a lot of love. This is their home,” Anne says.
She feels there is always more that can be done, especially in the education surrounding people with a chronic mental illness such as schizophrenia. While October is Mental Health Month, Anne says there is always a time to encourage everyone to think about their mental health and wellbeing.
She regularly visits schools to help educate about mental illness while encouraging people “just to listen and not judge”.
HOME in Queanbeyan may still be in partial lockdown due to COVID-19 risks, but Anne says she’d be more than happy if she had to stay a night or two.
“The whole team here agrees that we get way more than we put in. It’s an amazing place to work and a privilege to be here. You can be feeling a little bit off yourself, and you just walk in here and feel like you’re home.”
If you or someone you know has mental health issues, support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14. Call 000 if there is immediate danger to life.