Above: Operations manager of aged care at Mission Australia’s Charles Chambers Court, Jill Bicknell, accepts this year’s ‘Organisation Award’.

By Yasmin Noone

A Sydney-based residential facility which caters and cares for a small minority of older homeless adults has beaten an overwhelming majority of entrants nationwide to win the title of top organisation in this year’s HESTA & Aged and Community Services Australia (ACSA) Aged Care Awards.

Mission Australia’s Charles Chambers Court in Surry Hills was announced the winner of the ‘Organisation Award’ at a ceremony last night for the unique services it offers and for the staff’s heartfelt efforts to break older people out of the cycle of homelessness.

Operations manager of aged care at Charles Chambers, Jill Bicknell, expressed her gratitude on stage as she accepted the award, on behalf of her organisation, from the ceremony’s MC, Ita Butrose; CEO of ACSA, Patrick McClure; and other sponsor representatives.

“I am really pleased for the staff as well because they can now feel as though they’ve been given recognition,” Ms Bicknell later told AAA.

“We do look after a really different clientele to most.

“We are probably one of the few 100 per cent concessional aged care facilities around. We have no bond payments even though we are low care and we look after the most vulnerable who are either homeless or at risk of homelessness.

“[In these awards], we are up against services and huge organisations that receive bond payments and have lot [more] money so I just think it’s really nice for the staff to get that recognition because they work extremely hard.”

Charles Chambers Court, located in the Sydney suburb of Surry Hills, provides permanent accommodation and care for 60 frail, aged people who have been living on the street or are moving through crisis accommodation.

The residents all either have cancer, cardiovascular disease or diabetes and more than 70 per cent also have a diagnosed mental illness.

The award therefore aimed to recognise the important role that staff members play in the lives of the facility’s residents and offer deserving praise for their dedication to older vulnerable people who, too often, fall between the cracks of the system.

“[Running and working at Charles Chambers Court] has its different challenges.

“In the last few years we have found that the majority of older homeless people now have a mental illness whereas before the residents had a lot more alcohol related illnesses.

“A lot of the residents have, for a long time, been on the streets so they have embedded challenging behaviours because of that. A lot of them also isolate and are extremely fearful [of other people] as they’ve seen their mates [on the streets] doused in metho and set alight. Some have been stabbed just, you know, ‘for the hell of it’, so you’ve got really inherent challenging behaviours that are quite different to what you would normally have [in residential aged care].”

Above: MC of the night, Ita Butrose, with Ms Bicknell

Mission Australia plans to build another aged care facility for older homeless adults and other vulnerable individuals in Orange, in NSW’s west.

In a perfect world, Ms Bicknell said, the government would provide a financial incentive for other aged care providers to build similar facilities which cater for older individuals with challenging behaviours.

“There are three domains we receive funding for – activities of daily living; behaviours; and complex care needs. The one which is the least weighted, which gets the least amount of funding is the behaviours [domain]. The government really has to look hard at revisiting the funding of that domain.”

Ideally in the future, she said, the government and aged care advocates will place a greater emphasis on and create a greater state of community awareness about the increasing number of older homeless people in society – not just on the increasing number of “general” baby boomers.

“We can’t forget those who are less fortunate than ourselves through some sort of life circumstance, whatever it may be. We can’t loose sight of them. They are becoming the forgotten ones.”

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