Carrington Cottages is a softly aged brick and stone nineteenth century building in the Adelaide City. It proudly wears its heritage listing with a recent renovation that has claimed newfound grandeur in line with many of the old buildings so prevalent in the area. Behind its doors it is a place to call home for around 60 men all over the age of 45 that are transitioning from being homeless to independent living. These men have come from all walks of life and backgrounds. From Managers and ex-military to tradespeople and new immigrants. The one thing they share in common is that at some stage in their lives they have endured homelessness and the issues that can lead to homelessness. Physically and emotionally buffeted by the loss of work, of partners, of families, of friends and of self esteem. In many ways this group of men have been left out in the cold regarding targeted support and Carrington has given them a means to get by and so start to reconnect with work, friends, their families and in many cases themselves.
It was in 1989 that the now legendary tough-minded nun Sr Betty Schonfeldt was appointed administrator of Carrington. It was her birthday the day she was handed the keys to run Carrington Cottages and immediately walked into the courtyard to break up a brawl between two large men. The sight of this petite nun walking fearlessly into the turmoil immediately set the new tone for what has become a place where hundreds of men’s lives have been turned around. Sr Betty has handed on the keys to new management but still regularly visits and keeps in close contact with a range of social activities for the tenants.
Shaunee Fox is a relatively new appointment to the position of General Manager of Carrington and her team of Alex Hark and Steve are ex-residents who show great desire and energy to keep the good will of hope within the walls, helping the residents manage and keep some order. The fact that they understand and have “been there” goes a long way in acceptance and being that important listening ear for when someone is able to talk more openly about their issues, in their own way and at their own pace.
With the renovation Carrington Cottages now starts its fourth decade of helping homeless men with the same commitment to repairing these men’s lives by organising social activities, transport to medical and welfare appointments and professional services when needed. After closing some of the rooms for the refit they are now reopen and operating to capacity.
Carrington is a not for profit association that provides boarding house accommodation for men 45+. It has 60 rooms with tenants sharing kitchens, bathrooms and backyard recreational areas. Oz Harvest supplies fresh fruit and veggies as well as some groceries so there is good food available if needed for free.
Ex-resident Steve is now one of the staff. He’s ex-military and you can see it in his manner and booming vocal cords. He openly talks of how in a relatively short period of time he lost his job, his wife and his house and found himself on the streets living rough. At one stage living in a cardboard box in Port Adelaide. Quite the showman Steve recently started playing his guitar out the back one Friday afternoon and was surprised by how many of the residents came down to sing along. This has now grown into a regular event and being a self-confessed people watcher I spent a few good hours with the audience of around 30 residents and their friends. Looking around you can see the tell tale signs of men in various states of repair. Quite a few visiting ex-residents who had reconnected with work and families, some even studying at University, had reinvigorated life in their eyes. As the evening progressed even the quiet newbies finding something that sparked a flourish of response or a vocal chorus outburst or two.
The surprising thing to me was the willingness for some of these men to talk about their issues amongst the group. The further along the journey of repair the more confidently they speak about their past to one another. Most talk of the impact that homelessness has had in tearing down what they projected as themselves to the world. When you go from that perception to a cardboard box dignity can be a fragile word.
As Steve says, “…without a place to live you can’t connect with the world. The system requires you to have a home. Carrington Cottages enabled me to reconnect with the world so I don’t feel that loss of pride anymore”.
Alex Hark a long time volunteer and ex-resident of Carrington related that it’s not just living rough these days. It has become very dangerous out there with the threat of being bashed or robbed or both. More work needs to be done to provide those people living rough a safe place to live such as Carrington Cottages.
Thanks to Shaunee, Steve and Alex