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.
For many years prior to 1960, men who were homeless and disadvantaged 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.
A public appeal was launched – including a full-page article in the Melbourne Herald – and, as a result, the property at 167 Brunswick Street was purchased for 4000 pounds. The initial building 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 Program, which allowed St Mary’s House of Welcome 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 House of Welcome began to transform into more than just a soup kitchen.
By the 1980s St Mary’s House of Welcome had secured recurring government funding which enabled employment of welfare workers and other professional staff. As demand continued to grow steadily, St Mary’s House of Welcome 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. A Capital Appeal was launched in March 2007 to finance the development of a purpose-designed structure with a target of $5million. An outpouring of generosity from the community, corporate groups and State and Federal governments, saw the funds raised and construction began in late 2007.
The current purpose-built building at 165-169 Brunswick St Fitzroy was officially opened 22nd April, 2009 having been designed as a welcoming space that is both comfortable and dignified for those who use it. The many new facilities allowed a greater number of services and programs than had previously been offered at St Mary’s House of Welcome. New spaces included a women’s room, training kitchen, arts and crafts room, computer training room, multi-purpose room and health clinic.
Today, in the spirit of the Daughters of Charity, St Mary’s House of Welcome continues to provide support, solutions and hope for hundreds of homeless and disadvantaged people in Melbourne.
For further information about the Daughters of Charity and their other work, please visit their website.