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SmartCare grants supporting the mental & physical wellbeing of frontline workers

Bolton Clarke staff picnic funded by SmartCare

Last year was tough. Many of the small organisations we support were on the frontline looking after our most vulnerable and keeping them safe. Many charities saw revenues fall while demand on their services increased and they continued to reach out and provide vital support.

Frontline homelessness case work is distressing and enormously stressful. Staff burnout happens regularly. Workers often suffer ‘vicarious trauma’ as a result of being regularly exposed to distressing material or stories.

That’s why we set up SmartCare. It is an innovative program providing support to our frontline workers. People caring for marginalised and disadvantaged people often don’t take the time or have the necessary tools to look after their own mental and physical wellbeing. In order for charities to retain talented, caring and professional people they need to make sure their staff is supported. So, we stepped in. The StreetSmart community rallied together and donated to enable us to provide 15 grants in November. This meant for the first time in a long while or first time ever, charities could provide team building sessions, self-care initiatives, personal counselling and reward programs.

Here is what it meant to the organisations and their staff…

St John’s Youth Services

“Thank you, StreetSmart, for supporting St John’s Youth Services’ frontline workers. The pandemic has been challenging for everyone, but young people experiencing homelessness or crisis have been hit especially hard. While restrictions have eased, their legacy and the continuing uncertainty faced by young people are having a severely detrimental impact on young people’s physical wellbeing, mental health, and housing outcomes.

Frontline workers dedicated to supporting these young people understand their anxiety, fear and frustration, but – when jobs don’t exist and young people are priced out of the rental market – they often struggle to offer adequate long-term solutions. Yet they persist;  frontline workers show up every day to advocate, innovate and agitate for change to support the young people who rely on them for assistance. They know that many of these young people have already been let down by the adults in their lives, so our frontline workers are the cheerleaders in their corner, believing in each young person’s capacity to succeed and encouraging them with high expectations and a helping hand.

Thanks to StreetSmart and their wonderful community of supporters, St John’s Youth Services has been able to provide extra support to this dedicated team, and to provide opportunities for professional development, self-care and team building. Team participants have the identified areas of training and support that will most assist them, and sessions have been agreed upon and booked for later in the year.

All of us are enormously grateful to StreetSmart for recognising the extraordinary talents, tenacity and commitment of frontline homelessness workers, and for funding opportunities that contribute to their wellbeing and professional development.”

Youth Projects

“As you would imagine, the staff team needed a recharge after a very busy year and they have been extremely appreciative of the vouchers and team activities as recognition of how hard they have worked and how much we value to work they do.  We have managed to use the funds to have two activities for staff.  The first was a dinner last November as a reward and recognition of the incredible work the staff team have done during the pandemic.  We are also running a full Staff Reflection Day next Tuesday that will give the team a chance to reflect on how we operate our services under COVID-normal conditions, come together to build a team approach to achieving outcomes for our clients, all staff have reported feeling refreshed and supported by Youth Projects.”

South Port Community Housing Group Inc.

“Our staff were so appreciative of this amazing SmartCare initiative. Many thanks to you, your team and your supporters.  SmartCare funds were used for a pre-Christmas Team Lunch at the historic Fairfield Boat House. Prior to lunch, we hired boats for a relaxing row down the Yarra. We had a wonderful day. Also, front line staff were allocated $150 each to spend on personalised self-care.”

Wombat Housing

“Thanks again for your much-appreciated contribution to Wombat’s staff well-being; we really value the opportunity to recognise their efforts over the past year.  So far we have provided staff with an on-line training session from Superfriend’s Workplace Mental Health & Wellbeing team. Held in October last year, the training was titled ‘Workplace Mental Health Essentials’ and focused on issues staff may face with the pandemic such as anxiety, isolation and depression. A large part of the session was taken up with developing plans and strategies to assist staff in coping with working from home. The session generated a lot of discussion and feedback was very positive.

The training was so well received we are in the process of organising another session with Superfriend to assist with the return of staff to the office. The session we are negotiating is called ‘Returning to Work Post COVID 19’ and looks at the reverse culture shock of coming back to the office. This includes exploring different ways people will engage and work with each other in the ‘new normal’ office environment and strategies and tips for dealing with the inevitable speed humps encountered along the way. The timing is perfect as we are in the process of building two team bubbles with the aim of having all staff back to the office in a COVID safe manner in the near future. We are expecting the training will cost around the same as the last session.

As mentioned, we are in the process of gradually returning to the office and are currently investigating using the remainder of the grant funds to purchase personalised gifts for staff as a ‘welcome back’.”

Youth Futures

In 2020 Youth Futures supported over 2,800 young people and continued to provide essential services throughout the COVID-19 lockdown period. Staff in the homelessness team worked in an everchanging work environment compounded with the additional worry of their physical health and income. They worked tirelessly in an unprecedented time, maintaining professionalism and being the expected pillar of consistency and support for young people experiencing homelessness.

In November 2020 Youth Futures received a SmartCare grant to help support the mental and physical wellbeing of frontline workers. The grant was divided among the 18 staff members who delivered services across the timeframe. Each staff member received a tailored care package.

When the Homelessness Services and Business Development Managers delivered the care packages to staff, they were literally speechless and had a look of disbelief on their faces. The Homelessness Services Manager addressed the team, thanking them for their dedication, adaptability and professionalism. It was a privilege to not only acknowledge and thank them but to reward them with a token of appreciation which would not have been possible without the SmartCare grant.

“I am incredibly grateful for the gifts from Streetsmart/Smartcare; it was very thoughtful and extremely generous!”  Youth Worker – Multicultural Homelessness Service

“The treat was amazing – it felt really nice to be recognised for the work we do, particularly in the midst of the COVID disruption (and the fact that we kept strong and worked through it woohoo!).” Youth Worker – Nest (Homelessness Service for young mum’s escaping domestic violence)

Bolton Clarke

Just before Christmas, because of your kind donation, each team member of the Homeless Persons Program was presented with a gratitude hamper containing a special lunch and additional personal items as a heartfelt thank you for their hard work and dedication during the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s what staff said about the support…

“The Christmas picnic in the park was fantastic!  Not having met as a team most of the year due to COVID,  being outdoors during some great weather and sharing great food and conversation… it was like a family reunion with lots of laughter and catching up.  And wow, the catered lunch boxes were top class!  It all felt relaxed, but also extra-special: An all-around lovely oasis leading up to Christmas and the end of the year.  Thanks!”