For many years prior to 1960, homeless and disadvantaged men lined up outside St Vincent’s Hall in Fitzroy to receive a sandwich from the Daughters of Charity at lunch time. The Sisters were never satisfied with this make-shift service and longed to have a Centre to which these men could be invited to be served a meal with dignity.
As a result, St Mary’s House of Welcome was opened by the Daughters of Charity on the 30th May 1960 to assist homeless and disadvantaged men in Fitzroy.
The initial building at 167 Brunswick Street, provided a kitchen and dining room, clothing storage, office space, shower facilities for men and bathing and clinic facilities. On the first day of operation over 90 men were served a lunch of soup, sandwiches and tea. Within a year, more than 250 people were arriving each day for lunch.
In 1973 a meal subsidy of 25c was introduced under the Homeless Persons Programme, which allowed St Mary’s to gradually increase lunch service from the original soup, tea and sandwiches, to a full three-course meal. This change saw the demand for service increase dramatically and St Mary’s began to transform into more than just a soup kitchen.
By the 1980’s St Mary’s had secured recurring government funding which enabled employment of welfare workers and other professional staff. As demand continued to grow steadily, St Mary’s incorporated other services such as emergency relief, recreational activities, psychiatric disability support and social work. With so many additional services, the old building was no longer a sufficient space in which to provide them.
The decision to demolish St Mary’s House of Welcome and rebuild a new purpose designed structure in its place was not an easy one. The Board at St Mary’s had long been convinced that the original structure did not allow staff to provide the quality and number of services that clients needed. In addition, the design of the original building meant that there were many homeless and disadvantaged people who were outside our reach, including women and, in particular, women with children. The Board were determined to rectify these shortcomings.
The purpose built premises at 165-169 Brunswick St Fitzroy was officially opened 22nd April, 2009 and is designed to be a welcoming space that is both comfortable and dignified for those who use it. There are many new facilities which allow a greater number of services and programs than have previously been offered at St Mary’s. New spaces include a women’s room, training kitchen, arts and crafts room, computer training room, multi purpose room and health clinic.
Today, St Mary’s House of Welcome continues to provide support, solutions and hope for hundreds of homeless and disadvantaged people in the City of Yarra.
Photo of building by Patrick Rodriguez / Rodriguez Photography