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Better than reality TV: community rallies to house the homeless

Two other houses are going to single mothers with children, and the fourth will house five asylum seeker and homeless adults.

More than 60 volunteers worked on the houses, or donated goods.

Philanthropists Irene and Robert Gilbert, who grew up in Heidelberg West,  donated $40,000 and community group 3081 Angels gave baby clothes, kitchen goods and furniture.

Micaela and daughter Harper in a bedroom of their Heidelberg West rental home.

Micaela and daughter Harper in a bedroom of their Heidelberg West rental home.Credit:Eddie Jim

Builder Bill Anderson, from Transbuild, was unpaid project manager and he and his staff installed two donated Kaboodle Kitchens, fixed doors, tiled bathrooms, and installed shower screens.

Over six weeks, carpenter Tess Elliott, and two of her students at Olympic Adult Education, hung doors, installed locks, and repaired plaster.

Carpenter Tess Elliott and her students worked on the Heidelberg West houses.

Carpenter Tess Elliott and her students worked on the Heidelberg West houses.Credit:Eddie Jim

The project started a year ago following a state government plan to demolish a housing estate of more than 80 flats to build four, 10-storey public housing blocks.

Owners of four houses adjoining the blocks who didn’t want to live near the huge development sold them to Banyule council.

The council planned to bulldoze the four and sell them to private developers.

But no one took up the construction tender on the 10-storey public housing, and some tenants of the old estate are yet to be re-housed.

Brother Harry realised the latter project could take years, and he enthusiastically supported Banyule councillor Craig Langdon’s idea to postpone razing the four houses, to turn them into temporary accommodation.

Transferring the lease to Olympic Adult Education took more than eight months, during which time the four vacant houses were vandalised, with copper pipes and air-conditioning stolen and windows smashed.

That’s when the renovation rescue call went out.

Before and after photos of a kitchen in one of the four houses.

Before and after photos of a kitchen in one of the four houses.

Brother Harry said the houses might be available for only a few years, but would be a boon to people in urgent need.

Fourteen people ‘‘now have a secure and safe place to be, and just seeing the joy and relief on their faces, is great’’.

As an asylum seeker, Micaela has had trouble finding public housing because she isn’t a permanent resident or citizen.

Her welfare allowance is much lower than other recipients’, and she is not eligible for concession or health-care cards.

The rent on this house will be the same as for public housing — 25 per cent of her pension — however her pension is lower than the usual sole parent benefit.

Micaela is emotional about her new digs. ‘‘I’m speechless, that people are so generous, to stand up for people in need,’’ she said.

‘‘I’m actually very grateful. I always say I’m really lucky to live in this community because they’re just so helpful.’’

*Not their real names.

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