Transition accommodation service celebrates successful first year, despite pandemic

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A year ago the Fantella family was feeling a mix of nerves, excitement and tinge of sadness as their eldest daughter, Amber, prepared to leave home for the first time.

Twelve months on her parents, Deb and Murray, say they need not have worried at all, as Amber’s move to the Gateways’ newest supported accommodation service has been all they had hoped for and more.

The Geelong service, built with financial support from Adroit Insurance and Geelong Community Foundation, celebrates its first birthday on 16 March. Accommodation Team Leader Daniel Broomby says the first residents moved in as the COVID-19 restrictions began, presenting unexpected challenges and equally surprising opportunities.

‘For the participants, it meant having a consistent time in their new homes, getting used to things in, addition to developing their own routines, relationships and making their new homes feel like home,’ Daniel says.

‘It also provided a good opportunity for our team of 20 to become accustomed to our new roles and to use the time to build rapport and familiarise ourselves with each participant.’

Murray and Deb agreed, saying that while it was difficult not being able to visit their 25-year-old daughter, it gave the whole family a chance to get used to their new chapter.

‘We could get used to her not being around and she had a chance to get used to her new home, so I’d say COVID wasn’t a disadvantage to us,’ Murray says.

Deb describes Amber’s move into the service as an ‘absolute blessing’.

‘The staff have been absolutely wonderful. When we weren’t allowed to visit, they were always sending us updates on Amber and photos showing us how well she was settling in and making new friends,’ Deb says.

‘Now when we come to visit Amber, we come to visit everyone.’

The service was set up as supported transition housing for young adults with a disability and comprises a development of self-contained independent units for six residents and 20 support staff who work around the clock.

Daniel says the service aims to provide each resident with an opportunity to grow as an individual within a safe environment that reduces challenging behaviours and allows more scope for personal development.

‘Individuals are able to develop their skills and focus on what they want or need to bridge the gap to full independent living,’ Daniel says.

‘Some of our participants will in time transition to a style of living where the need for staff support would be significantly reduced and it is our job and privilege to be part of this journey.’

Deb and Murray have noticed many examples of personal growth and development since Amber’s move to the service; from washing her hands and cleaning her own dishes, to washing windows and carrying her rubbish to the bins.

‘There was one day she had gone to use the bathroom and when she came out I saw her use the hand soap, wash her hands under the tap, turn everything off, and dry her hands,’ Deb says.

‘I had never been able to get her to do that and to me it was like a baby saying its first word.’

But the benefits and positive changes have not been limited to Amber, with the entire Fantella family enjoying reduced stress and new freedoms.

‘I didn’t imagine it would be this different and that I’d have so much freedom,’ Deb says.

‘It’s simple things like being able to cook dinner without worrying that Amber might come in and put her hand in the hot oil or keeping the timelines that other people take for granted like popping out to the shops without having to rush home.’

Murray adds that the reduced stress means the family can now make the most of the time they spend together, with Amber coming home for special events and her parents enjoying visiting her and getting to know her friends at her new home.

Reflecting on the past 12 months, Daniel says he is incredibly proud of what his team has achieved during a difficult year, adding that they overcame every hurdle without hesitation.

He says he has enjoyed supporting participants to push their own limits and build skills, as well as watching the connections and bonding among staff and residents. As restrictions continued to ease, Daniel says he looks forward to seeing participants gain more skills in the community, such as using public transport, as well as developing more communal outdoor spaces at the service.

‘Being the team leader of this particular service has been the highlight of my career, as the team and I have been able to witness six individuals moving into their own homes and embracing their new world,’ Daniel says.

‘The success of the service is owed purely to the team; without their hard work, dedication and passion, we wouldn’t be where we are today and I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of it.’

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New friendships: Denzel and Amber enjoy the sunshine.
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