Eileen Pollard says her life has taken a positive turn since she got in touch with Somerville. (ABC Radio Darwin: Maree Yoelu)
Eileen Pollard was 16 and on track to lead the kind of life you might read about in the newspaper.
Handballed between a mother and father who had separated, deteriorating relationships with both her parents drove her into homelessness and a world of petty theft.
“I even went to court at one stage for stealing an iPad.”
She was still living from couch to couch when she fell pregnant, and finding stable accommodation only became more difficult with a needy infant in tow.
“It was bad. Back then he didn’t have a sleeping routine, and as he grew bigger I ended up having to make sheets on the ground for him to sleep on,” Ms Pollard said.
“Another thing was he wakes everybody up. I wanted to be in the one house with my son, but I moved on so that I could keep the good between us.”
The pair had been couch surfing for a year by the time she enlisted the help of Somerville’s Supported Accommodation Program.
Now in secure housing with her one-year-old, Ms Pollard happily recalled staff at the charity going in to bat for her and her partner despite their non-existent rental history.
“As soon as I went into Somerville they called all the real estate people. They automatically gave a good word about us. Straight away we got the house,” she said.
Her path is the kind of success story the charity wants to help facilitate for Darwin’s needy, with Ms Pollard now living comfortably in a house with a separate bedroom for her son to live in and a big backyard to explore.
Ginger and Pepper have been helping residents with complex disabilities learn about responsibility. (ABC Radio Darwin: Maree Yoelu)
More than just a job
Further afield, two of Somerville’s most popular supported accommodation residents are sharing a meal.
Pepper and Ginger, two fat bush pigs, are the centrepiece of Somerville’s five-acre support home in Girraween.
The property is home to five men who tend to Ginger and Pepper while managing their complex intellectual disabilities.
“They’re more like dogs than pigs,” disability support worker Emily Farey said.
“They give the guys a bit of responsibility. They’re able to look after something instead of perhaps being looked after themselves.”
Mavis White has spent more than 15 years at the support house helping residents.
She said the difficulties she’d encountered in that time had been immense.
“They can be very aggressive. They can have violent behaviours. They can self-harm,” Ms White said.
“They do have their challenging behaviours but they’re wonderful people.”
Melonie Williams visits prisons to deliver Somerville’s Step Forward program. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
Still, she speaks of her work at the support home as though it is more than just a job.
“When you walk out the gate, it’s hard to switch yourself off from them.
“If one of them is sick or not feeling well you’re always thinking about them and ringing up to make sure they’re OK.
“You become their family and they’re your family.”
Helping people on the inside out
In prisons, Somerville helps soften the impact of long-term prisoners feeling like they’ve been released into another world when on parole.
Melonie Williams teaches parole candidates vital life skills.
The eight-module course she delivers covers everything from following a healthy grocery list to the differences between debit and credit.
“In one of our groups there was a gentleman who didn’t know what an ATM was; didn’t know what online banking was,” she said.
“When he last got a wage he got it in an envelope at the end of the week.”
Housekeeping, budgeting and relationship-building are courses in the Step Forward program. (ABC Radio Darwin: Jesse Thompson)
She said it was easy to forget how quickly technology developed, even though the arenas of job hunting and resume writing had been overhauled by computers and the internet.
“Most of [the inmates] have low education and some of them have never had anybody in their life teach them these basic skills.”
The courses have proven so popular among prisoners they have been known to promote them to other inmates.
“The prisoners say there’s no other program like this in there that teaches life skills,” Ms Williams said.
You can help Somerville by donating dry goods and children’s gifts to the Somerville Christmas Appeal until December 8. Donations can be made at any Somerville office and the ABC’s Darwin bureau.
Tune in to Breakfast on Friday morning as Richard Margetson broadcasts live from Somerville’s Wagaman office at 147 Lee Point Road.
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