More than 12 years ago Lyshane, who was blind, living alone in a Canberra unit and had schizophrenia, fell down 13 steps.
In her mid-50s at the time, she knew immediately that her time living alone had come to an end, simply because it had just become too dangerous.
But that didn’t mean her life was over. She had already overcome enough obstacles in her life to leave lesser people reeling.
Lyshane said it was at age 49 she knew she was going blind.
“I went to Sydney for a corneal graft because my cornea had worn out,” she said.
“After the operation, they took the bandages off and asked me what I could see. I told them nothing. Then they decided to do another graft and after that operation they asked me again what I could see. I still couldn’t see anything. That’s when they said there was nothing more they could do.”
Today Lyshane is living a full and independent life thanks to a remarkable little place – Home in Queanbeyan.
“I can paddle my own boat,” she said.
Home in Queanbeyan is funded, operated and supported by the local community, giving people with mental health issues the opportunity to live an independent life – but with help close at hand if needed.
It was the brainchild of Father Peter Day who, back in 2004, had an idea. What if we created a safe place for homeless people who were mentally ill? A place that wasn’t an asylum or a refuge but a home. A place where independence was respected but where there was help 24 hours a day if needed.
A year later, the idea had far from faded. In fact, when he mentioned it to his friend Anne Pratt, she said, immediately, “I’m in”.
Today, Anne is not only still “in”, she’s the manager of Home in Queanbeyan. “I’ve been here longer than most of the furniture,” she joked.
The Crawford Street premises today is home to 20 residents; six women and 14 men. They’re supported by Anne and her team as well as a band of volunteers who do everything from taking residents out for a coffee to cooking the evening meal to just offering a listening ear. It also has the support of local police, health services and others.
What makes Home in Queanbeyan work?
“It’s because we’re like a family,” Anne said. “We’re a real community here.
“When Peter Day set it up, we chose not to ask for government funding, because we wanted to be funded by the community – and that’s what’s happened.
“If we received government funding the community could step back, thinking we don’t need them any more, and that’s not what we want. This place is all about community. ”
Despite its name, Anne said geography didn’t come into it when it came to helping people in need. People from Canberra were as regular residents at the Queanbeyan home as were those from NSW.
Home in Queanbeyan couldn’t survive without its dedicated band of volunteers, from retired professionals to schoolchildren.
Mario Sallecchia, one of the longest-serving volunteers, said it’s all about listening.
“You need to listen to people, need to understand what people are going through,” he said.
“You also have to know that volunteering is not for everyone – but if you have patience and a little understanding – it could be for you. You also need to enjoy a joke or two.”
Hands Across Canberra CEO Peter Gordon said people outside the capital often thought of Canberra as a prosperous city without problems like homelessness.
“People don’t realise how many homeless people we have in Canberra, particularly women. It’s just that you don’t see homeless women on the streets here because it is too dangerous for them to be out there,” he said.
Anyone could find themselves homeless. Some people, he said, think it can’t happen to them, but it can and does. Circumstances can change suddenly, rendering people in situations they never thought they’d find themselves in.
Peter called on the people of Canberra and region to think of folk in need in the lead-up to Canberra Day on 14 March.
“We want people to give where they live,” he said. “I would really like to see people celebrate Canberra Day by helping out a group like Home in Queanbeyan,” he said, adding that Canberra was the second most generous city in Australia.
“I’d especially like to see some of the big companies in Canberra, the multinationals, put something back into the community. Their staff give back but the employers themselves could be more involved. The people who work for them do, but not the companies themselves.”
The Canberra Day appeal culminates with Hands Across Canberra’s 2022 Giving Day on 9 March, when the community is asked to donate to local groups like Home in Queanbeyan over a 48-hour period.
To help the 2022 Hands Across Canberra Giving Day, go to the website here.
Home in Queanbeyan is always looking for help, be it through donations of funds, goods or services or people power. If you can help, go to the website.