How connecting with country helps heal
6 minute read

Shaun was hospitalised 122 times in one year before he moved into safe, supported housing at Haven Geelong.

He was homeless, battling alcoholism, had fractured relationships with his family and his mental health supports were unstable.

The 54-year-old has an acquired brain injury and has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

But moving into Haven Geelong a year ago has been a turning point. Haven residences provide people who have enduring mental ill-health with long-term housing and 24/7 support from onsite staff. Mind Australia manages these residences in partnership with community housing provider The Haven Foundation, a subsidiary of Mind.

Shaun no longer drinks alcohol or takes drugs, and is relying less on his NDIS support worker, who he previously called three times a day.

Most notably, Shaun has had just one hospital admission since moving into the Haven residence.

I feel like I’m home when I go there, or I am out in nature in a nice space. There’s a big boomerang out the front, they have Indigenous paintings, yarning yards and I can feed the emus.
- Shaun

Shaun is a proud Wathaurong man. When he is out in nature, out on the lawn or in open spaces, he feels like he is whole again.

His favourite memories are manufacturing makeshift barbecues out of old clothes dryer tubs in country Corio and sharing dreamtime stories with his mates under the stars. “I’m old school like that,” Shaun said.

Karena, Haven Geelong’s Service Manager, said Shaun had come “such a long way” since moving into the residence.

“He has made authentic friendships, and people truly care about him. When Shaun moved in, he had a lot of people in his life who were taking advantage of him and his situation,” she said.

“Shaun has that ‘mate’ vibe; he’s so willing to help his friends, often to his own detriment, but it’s a lovely human quality to have. If Shaun is helping someone then Shaun is happy – he’s a really good man.”

But it has been a tough journey. 

A lot has changed since those days but connection to country remains essential for Shaun’s wellbeing and a key pillar of his mental health recovery journey.

His regular visits to Narana Aboriginal Cultural Centre – an education-focused not-for-profit that provides a welcoming introduction to modern Indigenous culture – are the highlight of Shaun’s week.

“I feel like I’m home when I go there, or I am out in nature in a nice space. There’s a big boomerang out the front, they have Indigenous paintings, yarning yards and I can feed the emus,” Shaun said.

“I think it’s important to be connected to the land and the environment. One day I want to get a house of my own out in the country.”

Shaun loves sharing his Indigenous heritage with other Haven Geelong residents. In the past he has organised NAIDOC Week events at the service and shared his own artwork to help others learn about Aboriginal culture.

About The Haven Foundation

Haven residences provide a high quality home and living support for people with mental health and wellbeing concerns to find help, hope and purpose in their lives.

Mind CEO Gill Callister said The Haven Foundation offers a safe living environment while encouraging independence.

“Haven residences enable people with significant long-term mental health issues to lead successful and fulfilling lives in the community,” Ms Callister said.

“In many cases, Haven residents are able to break a cycle of homelessness and mental ill-health which has led to hospitalisations in the past.

“Our housing models are proven to provide stability, independence and a greater sense of belonging, confidence and responsibility to our clients.”

Mind Australia Executive Director-Housing Strategy Mark Heeney said Haven residences are for NDIS participants whose capacity to live independently is impacted by long-term mental health issues.

“Residents make a contribution from their NDIS plan to fund the shared 24/7 onsite support which Mind provides.

“Residents receive help with daily tasks, develop skills for independent living and work on their mental illness recovery.”

Haven residences feature up to 16 private apartments, each with its own kitchen, living room, bathroom, laundry facilities and outdoor area.

Residents learn life skills, like confidence and connection with others, to help build a healthy lifestyle. The Haven Foundation model promotes and supports the involvement of family, friends and carers.

If you would like more information, please contact us via Mind Connect or phone: 1300 286 463

If this article raises concerns for you, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islanders can also call 13 YARN (13 92 76) a 24/7 national crisis support telephone service staffed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 
If you would like more information, please contact us.

1300 286 463 
[email protected]  

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