First Step newsletter: Summer 2020
About two weeks into Melbourne’s first lockdown, I was chatting with a client out the front of the building, and she said something I’ll never forget: “So, I’m stuck alone at home, I’ve got no reason to get out of bed in the morning, and people look at me like I’m contagious. Same old same old.” What an insight!
This year has been like that - full of contradictions, full of learnings, and we’ve had to take our humour where we could find it.
This is our first newsletter - we promise not to spam you! But we do want to keep in touch and keep you updated on our work. Please click on the links below to hear from our staff and clients.
Have a restful and rejuvenating end of year break, and please look after each other.
Chief Executive Officer
ResetLife goes online
“My life was pretty grim before I started ResetLife, having barely a thread of hope. Since starting and completing the ResetLife Program, it has restored that hope and confidence that I can recover from my addictions and made me feel like I deserve to as well.”
First Step is committed to the philosophy of harm minimisation and is proud to include the ResetLife treatment program for those ready to extend their treatment goals. ResetLife is an abstinence-based 16-week program that includes individual, group and family education sessions, and is supported by qualified therapists and peer workers.
When COVID-19 restrictions began, it impacted our service delivery model and ResetLife was moved online. We were really concerned about our clients staying engaged and committed to the program, but as the weeks unfolded, we were pleasantly surprised.
We found that client engagement increased and attendance rates in groups were consistently high. Our clients were keen for contact with their peers (people with a lived experience of addiction) and workers, especially those clients who lived alone or had little other contacts. And for many, it was easier to attend as they could just turn on the computer rather than navigate traffic or public transport.
The other unexpected benefit of being online, was that it made it easier and more convenient for family members to attend the Family Education sessions. Having families connecting became the norm, even from interstate and overseas
ResetLife has a ‘rolling admission’, which means clients can enter the program at any stage. Because of this, they develop strong support networks through the sharing of mutual experiences. Peers often hold hope for those new clients to look towards, when they cannot hold it for themselves.
Eleven clients have completed the program since COVID-19 started. And for most of them, we have not met in person! This really is a testament to their personal drive and determination to turn their lives around.
We look forward to celebrating their graduation in the new year when we can all be together face to face.
Supporting our clients through COVID
Keeping our community healthy and safe has been our top priority during this period of COVID-19.
As you will remember, one of the four reasons people could leave home during lockdown, was to get the medical care they needed, and we certainly encouraged our clients to do just that.
In the most part, we transitioned to phone or video consultations. And for those that couldn’t, whether they were too unwell, or simply did not have access to a telephone, we continued to see them face to face.
In the first three months of lockdown, we were busier than ever, providing 3,329 consultations – all whilst adapting to a new way of working virtually overnight.
We implemented a COVID Practice Plan from the first day of lockdown. Any clients coming to 42 Carlisle Street had their temperature taken and were asked the standard questions we all got used to this year – have you travelled overseas? Have you been in contact with anyone who is unwell? Do you have any flu-like symptoms? Anyone who answered ‘yes’ was seen in the portable POD we have at the side of the building, with staff in full personal protective equipment and using disposable equipment.
We made sure that we still helped people as much as possible. And we made sure we looked after each other as well. We are committed to keeping our community healthy.
And remember, stay healthy by washing your hands, distancing yourself from others by 1.5m and take care of your mental health.
New opportunities for First Step Legal
“The whole premise of me getting mental health support, addiction support and legal support all under the same umbrella is incredibly beneficial and it’s changed my life. I’m really so grateful for my experience with First Step Legal. My actual vision for myself has never been more clear. I feel like it’s doable. I’m not just clutching at straws; I feel like I can achieve it.”
First Step Legal is a community legal centre embedded within First Step. We provide pro bono legal advice and representation to some of the most disadvantaged and disenfranchised members of our community, ensuring that the stress of dealing with a legal matter does not derail their rehabilitation efforts.
COVID-19 demanded a radical shift in the way we operate and support our clients. We increased phone contact for many as they experienced distress from the economic, social, and medical implications of the pandemic. We engaged with their families, navigated various service closures and tried to find alternatives, and managed a new online system for court appearances.
For the first time since our inception, we received confirmation of our eligibility to receive Community Legal Centre funding from the state government to partially fund our legal practice. This wonderful news allowed us to start busily scoping two new health justice partnership pilots – one with St Kilda Road Clinic Community Mental Health, and the other with Star Health Family Violence.
We also added a criminal lawyer and family lawyer to our team, and a new legal administrator. This means we can support even more clients struggling with legal issues, in a more meaningful way than ever before.
Overwhelmingly, we continue to deal with criminal law and family violence matters, driving offences, dishonesty offenses and drug related offending. Over the last year we assisted 151 clients with 188 legal matters.
As part of our ongoing commitment to clients, we keep in regular contact once their matter is resolved. Of the clients surveyed this year, 95% had not committed any further offences and 100% felt more hopeful and positive than before working with us.
It’s remains an enormous privilege to be able to do this work and to use whatever capacities we have to help make a difference in the lives of our clients whose courage and determination to overcome overwhelming obstacles in their owns lives, continues to inspire us.
39 Greeves Street: space to grow
Sometimes, opportunities arise even in the middle of a crisis.
First Step has been providing mental health and addiction services to our local community from 42 Carlisle Street for 20 years. Over those years, we have continued to grow and adapt to meet the needs of the community. Our programs and our staff increased, but we remained at the one increasingly busy site.
It was getting tight. And we knew that our capacity to support more clients was limited by space.
Literally over the back fence, on Greeves St, was a beautiful old red brick building which became available for rent just when we needed it. Well, that fence is now gone, and we have two buildings on one ‘campus’, with a courtyard in between.
The new building will house ResetLife and First Step Legal, which have both significantly expanded during lockdown, as well as our executive and philanthropy team.
ResetLife has grown from five clients earlier this year, to over 40, with a waiting list. 39 Greeves Street has a major conference room to run family education sessions from, as well as smaller counselling rooms, and generous amenities.
And First Step Legal have room for an expanding team of staff and volunteers as well as a virtual courtroom.
The ‘new’ building is full of character and history. We believe that it was used as a boarding house for many years; and used to count money from the local parking meters – the walls and doors were fortified steel! We repainted the deep red walls, restored the ornate features on the high ceilings, and reconfigured some of the rooms. We even sourced furniture from a local institution, Big Mouth, which sadly closed due to COVID-19, with our staff carrying tables along Barkly Street!
This is the first time we have physically expanded, and I expect both buildings will be full before too long. We remain dedicated to supporting our clients, and to encouraging the community health sector and government to embrace multi-disciplinary hubs and whole-person care.
Our reception, mental health services, GPs, psychologists and psychiatrist remain at 42 Carlisle Street so you know exactly where to find us if you need us.
Have a restful and rejuvenating end of year break, and please look after each other.