From humble beginnings in 2009, Hunter Homeless Connect Day has been held each year and in 2019, on its tenth anniversary, the event experienced its largest attendance on record with over 2000 people on the ground accessing a one-stop-shop of human and community services, including free haircuts, massages, immunisations, birth certificates, bedding, phone cards, food, clothing and much more.
Year after year, the event is delivered by a ‘community coalition’ of government and non-government services and volunteers, with in-kind and financial support from organisations, community partners and individuals across the Hunter.
The first event back in 2009 was held at the PCYC in Broadmeadow, and coordinated by Centrelink’s Community & Stakeholder Relationships Officer, Nicola Hirschhorn, with a small group of dedicated people who were working in the community services sector.
In 2010, the Newcastle PCYC stepped in to coordinate the event, utilising the services of Alana Mondy, Cultural Events Coordinator. From 2011 to 2013, volunteer Phil Sergeant took on the leadership and overall coordination of the event.
In early 2014 the HHC Inc. Management Committee decided that returning to a model where Hunter Homeless Connect Day was coordinated through an appropriate community service organisation, was key for the future of the event, and a proposal was put forward to Compass Housing Services to provide resources for coordination of the event. Compass accepted, and as part of the organisation's contribution to the community, they provided a dedicated coordinator, Housing Pathways Coordinator Lucy Andrews, to build on the existing model and strengthen links with key services. With a passion for social justice and already working with people who were homeless or at risk of homelessness, Lucy was driven to ensure the event offered guests as much opportunity as possible to seek the support and assistance they needed to facilitate change to their situation. From 2014 to 2016, Lucy, with a team of volunteers from the sector, streamlined the planning process to ensure the best possible outcomes for guests at the event.
In 2017, the reigns were handed to Michelle Faithfull, Events & Community Relations Manager at Compass Housing who, in the first 2 years coordinated the event in two different venues after outgrowing the PCYC, and eventually settling on the Newcastle Showground Exhibition Centre, which has been the most suitable venue to date. With the event still growing in size and it now well established in a venue that is purpose designed for exhibition, the planning workgroup led by Michelle Faithfull and the management committee continue to refine the way it is delivered to ensure that it aligns with the organisation's mission, and that is to build an inclusive community with zero judgment.
This mission has been further enhanced in 2019 after securing a $46,000.00 investment grant from Community Sector Banking for the roll out of the Connecting the Hunter program via the employment of a part-time coordinator, for one year. The program is an extension of the one-day event that sees businesses in the community opening their doors to people experiencing homelessness, all year round.
It provides a dignified and practical way for people experiencing homelessness, to identify inclusive and welcoming environments, have access to services and connection to members of the community who would like to donate their goods, facilities and services, without judgment.
Over ten years the Management Committee has been chaired by various hard-working locals including inaugural chairperson Nicola Hirschhorn, succeeded by Leanne Mellor, Jennifer Ross, Kieran O’Donoghue, Peter Di Girolamo, Sally Regan with Jenn O’Sullivan currently at the helm.
Hunter Homeless Connect Inc. is a not-for-profit organisation, which relies on the financial and in-kind support of the community to provide its services.