heart of the home


Kristen Grainger plays a key role at this award-winning hostel in Newcastle, which provides outstanding aged care to marginalised people, many of whom have serious mental illnesses.


For older people with mental-health issues, having a safe, comfortable place to call home is sadly — more often than not — an impossible dream. However, for residents of Catholic Healthcare’s Charles O’Neill Hostel in Newcastle, the concept of having a safe home is at the heart of everything that the team who works tirelessly there does. Kristen Grainger accepted the Team Innovation Award at the 2015 HESTA Aged Care Awards for the program — ‘A Safe Place to Call Home’. This aims to provide outstanding care to people who have often been turned away or been referred from other services.


Rewarding work 

Of the 40 residents at the hostel, 28 have been diagnosed with one or more mental health disorders, some requiring significant support with behavioural symptoms. Despite the challenges, Kristen is upbeat about her working environment. “I really enjoy looking after people who have mental health problems. On their good days there is so much energy and creativity in them, they are really fun to be around, and there is so much laughter in the building,” Kristen says.




A place to call home

The concept of the hostel being a true home for the residents is at the heart of everything the team does, explains Kristen. “We want them to know and feel like this is their home. They go out and they might stay away for the night but, they can’t wait to come back,” she says. “When people come to us, they usually have no one in their lives. We try and give them a home — make them feel safe, independent and welcome.” For many residents, simply having basic facilities — a room, a bed and a toilet — is a revelation. “We have a gentleman living here who lived on the Sydney–Newcastle train for 20 years. He had a lengthy hospital stay before he came in and he really didn’t have anywhere else to go,” says Kristen.


Art therapy program

Winning a HESTA Award was a major boost for the team, says Kristen. “It made everyone feel so happy and proud to work where we work.” The prize money has also allowed for an expansion of the hostel’s vital art-therapy program. “The HESTA Award enabled us to offer it to more residents. We had a resident who came to us from a boarding house and he hadn’t spoken for a very long time. Through our art therapy, social outings and our team encouraging him, he is now speaking and writing — he is a completely different man.


What's next for Kristen?

The choice is clear: “I can’t imagine working anywhere else because I love the people I work with, and I love the people who live there. It is clear that this is indeed a safe place to call home."




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