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Frederic House for St Vincent de Paul, Sydney, Wednesday, 25 March 1998: address on the occasion of the opening.

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Like most jobs, that o f Governor-General has its o ff days Indeed, I must confess that there has been the odd occasion when Helen and I have woken up in the morning at Government House with the feeling “ What on earth are we doing here?” On the other hand, there are many days o f pure magic when we know that there is nothing we would prefer to be doing The best o f those magic days are the days when we are privileged to participate, however marginally, in the work being done by so many Australians for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable o f our community Today is one o f those days

This building, named after the Society’s Founder, Blessed Frederic Ozanam, w ill fu lfil a great need in the lives o f the 60 men who w ill come to know it as their secure, permanent and comfortable home It will be a home where each man has his own bedroom and bathroom facilities; where each o f the four main “ clusters” o f rooms has a laundry, lounge, communal facilities and a kitchenette, although the main meals o f the day w ill be eaten in the central dining room It w ill be a home where the health o f the residents w ill constantly be monitored; where special activities and interests are provided; where the care o f those who live here is the first priority A home, in short, where the individual dignity, privacy and independence o f each o f the men is respected, restored and maintained

Obviously, Frederic House will meet a great need in the lives o f its residents But it w ill also meet an important need in the life o f this city and o f the Australian community as a whole For the plight o f the homeless - homeless men, homeless women, homeless young people - remains a substantial, indeed an overwhelming problem And it is a challenge to each o f us personally

None o f us is entitled to take the approach that the problems o f poverty and disadvantage in our country are exclusively the responsibility o f government and that, if government aid to the homeless and other disadvantaged is somehow unavailing that is somehow their own fault We each have a moral duty to confront these problems In terms o f the parable o f the rich man in St Luke’ s Gospel, who o f us can deny that Lazarus lies hungry and in desperate need at our gate Indeed, the plight o f the homeless and the disadvantaged is a challenge to our own perceptions o f the intrinsic worth o f our society

For, surely the ultimate test o f the worth o f a democratic nation such as ours is how we treat our most disadvantaged and vulnerable.

The week before last, I launched the book Australian Poverty: Then and Now, edited by Professor Ruth Fincher and Dr John Nieuwenhuysen Essentially, it is a study o f the character and distribution o f poverty and disadvantage, and the extent to which things have changed either for the better or the worse, since the publication o f the Henderson Report in 1975.

The chapter by Peter Burke on The Poverty o f Homlessness points out that over the past two decades the prevalence o f homelessness in affluent Australia has actually increased. In the early 1970s it was estimated there were some 3000 homeless men in both Sydney and Melbourne. By 1983 it was estimated there were some 40,000 people homeless, with a further 60,000 at risk

It is true that there has been a substantial shift away from providing only basic institutional overnight services for the homeless, and towards longer term community- based housing and support - o f which the Matthew Talbot Outreach houses provide an excellent example But it is also true that over these last two decades the “ who” o f the homeless have become much more diverse. Today’s homeless people are younger and more evenly distributed between male and female than their 1970s counterparts. Indeed, Helen and I have spent a considerable amount o f time with organisations helping homeless young people Some o f the youngsters who are assisted to a new sense o f place, o f home, o f self-worth and self-confidence, are barely in their teens.

This project - Frederic House - is designed to help men at the other end o f the age spectrum: the frail aged The need for such a facility was clearly demonstrated by a 1989 client census o f Persons in Supported Accommodation which disclosed that many people over the age o f 60 in supported accommodation in New South Wales are frail and in need o f a much higher level o f care than that provided by existing centres. Indeed, their frailties and disabilities are such that they generally are in need o f long-term care, yet many o f them have to live in quite inappropriate surroundings lacking adequate support services. There are, in addition, large numbers o f elderly people living in marginal accommodation, often with little or no family support, and in heart-breaking need o f security, personal care, companionship and health and welfare services

It is for 60 o f these frail aged men that Frederic House has been built, as an extension to the services for the homeless provided by the St Vincent de Paul Society through the Matthew Talbot Hostel - now celebrating it’s 601 1 ' Anniversary - and the outreach accommodation. As such, it is further evidence o f the enormous contribution the

Society makes every day towards fulfilling the basic needs o f the marginalised and the disadvantaged By doing so, it contributes mightily to the overall moral and social worth o f our community.

Let me therefore commend the project to you, and express my thanks to all who have made it possible: the financial assistance that has been received through both the Commonwealth and State Governments, the Architect, the Design Consultants, the Builders, the companies and individual men and women who have so generously contributed sponsorship and other funding, expertise and donations in kind Together,


they have helped - and w ill help - the countless frail aged homeless men who, over the years ahead, will come to live here. Thereby, they enrich our society and help us all

And now, with much pleasure I declare Frederic House to be officially open. May God bless and protect all those who come to live here. And may He bless and reward all those who care for them or otherwise help to fulfd their needs