Sanctuary celebrates 10 years with community dinner

It has been 10 years since the Sanctuary program, which provides housing to those seeking asylum, first opened in Brunswick as a joint partnership between Baptcare, Brunswick Baptist Church and Hotham Mission Asylum Seeker Program. On December 10, this wonderful achievement was celebrated, in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, at a dinner at Sanctuary Preston.

Past and current residents, volunteers, staff, friends and members of partner churches and organisations celebrated Sanctuary’s achievements spanning the past decade with a group of residents preparing a delicious range of food.

Article 25 of the Declaration of Human Rights states: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself or herself and of his or her family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services." Over the past 10 years, Baptcare, in partnership with so many others, has supported more than 450 people, experiencing homelessness, including 30 children.

One of those people is UD, the first resident to call Sanctuary home who has now obtained permanent residency, and has been able to bring his wife and children over from Sri Lanka to live with him in the northern suburbs of Melbourne where he works as a photographer.

Leonie Walker, Acting Manager Housing and Homelessness, says the residents we support are resourceful, resilient people with a lot to contribute to the Australian community.

“Baptcare provides those seeking asylum with the safety of stable accommodation and support, and the opportunity to participate in education, employment and social activities. The Sanctuary program and its more than 60 volunteers help to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives,” said Leonie.

The Sanctuary program was born in 2008 when the Brunswick Baptist Church, who had been housing people seeking asylum for some years in one of their church dwellings, approached Baptcare seeking to increase the housing available for those seeking refuge with no income or support. Long-time member of the Brunswick Baptist Church, Meewon Yang said at the recent celebratory dinner this partnership still stands strong today.

“Our partnership with Baptcare is as strong as ever. Members of our church still come and eat a meal with residents at Sanctuary Brunswick once a month. It is a wonderful way to connect and offer social support,” said Meewon.

Over the years the Sanctuary program has relied on the generosity of the Australian community to sustain its work. This generosity is reflected in its 13 Houses of Hope currently offering 52 people refuge. Further generosity has allowed these homes and others to be completely furnished with donations including 22 fridges, 12 washing machines, 21 sofas, 15 dining tables, 72 chairs, 36 beds and 26 boxes of linen. Sanctuary also receives 50 tonnes per year of donated food to help meet this most basic need for those without any income.

Employment opportunities have also increased over the past two years, making a positive impact on residents’ capacity to support themselves and their families. Through volunteer support and employer partnerships, Sanctuary has assisted 42 residents into employment spanning the industries of cleaning, construction, gardening, hospitality, personal care, banking, and customer service.

“We have seen these past years that we can do so much more together, and through our many partnerships we have had the opportunity to tap into community generosity and hospitality, upholding the dignity, equality and freedom of those seeking asylum and supporting them to contribute their unique skills and abilities to the communities in which they now live,” said Leonie.

“In an ideal world, the need for our Sanctuary program would not exist, with applications for protection visas processed quickly and with everyone able to access the basic means of living, including safe housing. However, until that time, Sanctuary will continue to provide people seeking asylum with the opportunity to rebuild their lives and live free from danger,” said Leonie.