STANDING overlooking the sprawling township of Nambour, Catholic woman Annette Baker points to some vacant land where she imagines building affordable studio units for people at risk of homelessness.
“About ten units … It doesn’t have to be government-funded, it could be private donors,” Mrs Baker said, outlining her latest plan to provide housing for low-income households.
Every night an estimated 1000 people are homeless on the Sunshine Coast, and Mrs Baker believes low-income families, single parents and pensioners are highly susceptible to the financial stress of unpaid rent, bills and debts that force many into crisis.
Added to that, she knows the difficulties of life faced by many today – drugs and alcohol, mental health problems, domestic violence and marriage breakdown. It is her passion to find a way out of crisis. As a board member of Vinnies Housing, Mrs Baker is constantly looking for land that can be developed for affordable accommodation, and for financial backing to match the vision.
After recently receiving The Catholic Leader’s 2017 Community Leader of the Year award, Mrs Baker was quick to claim the award, not for herself, but for the work of the St Vincent de Paul Society.
“We don’t put it out in blazing lights, and I think that The Catholic Leader award is recognition of the work done by Vincentians every day,” she said.
However it is clear that Mrs Baker is a driving force in her own Nambour community – both as a 17-year member of the St Vincent de Paul Society, holding key leadership positions including state council vice-president and chair of the society’s state housing and homelessness committee – and as a parishioner at St Joseph’s, Nambour.
“Annette leads from the front. She is a people person who truly loves both her God and her fellow man,” Maroochydore St Vincent de Paul Society conference member John McMahon, who has worked closely with Mrs Baker, said.
“She is a magnificent mother and grandmother… a truly good person. And you don’t come across many of those.”
Mrs Baker’s faith life drives her work with Vinnies.
“Each morning when we open our support centre, we pray,” Mrs Baker said. “We pray for guidance with the people we are going to serve.
“I love the prayer of St Francis: ‘Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith’.”
Mrs Baker was the driving force behind opening Nambour’s MacKillop Village, in 2013, named after Australia’s first saint Mary MacKillop.
It has 17 two-bedroom and 24 one-bedroom apartments, and offers a range of support services.
Stimulus funding from government was a big contributor to getting the project off the ground.
MacKillop Village has proven life-changing for many low-income households – because it provides affordable rental accommodation when the only alternatives are high-rent properties.
Earlier, Mrs Baker was instrumental in providing crisis accommodation housing for men – however that project closed in 2009 because of a lack of ongoing funding.
“Do you realise there is now no crisis accommodation for men between Brisbane and Maryborough?” Mrs Baker said to underline the size of the accommodation crisis.
Emergency accommodation for women is also in short supply, and motels are often used by agencies trying to find short-term options to escape domestic violence.
Mrs Baker said she was always on the lookout for more funds to provide the service needed to support people in need.
“That is our whole aim. How do we help people to be in a better place, and live better, healthier lives?” she said.
“You can’t address people’s health issues if they are sleeping under a bridge.
“The first thing is to house people. Once you do that, you can wrap them around with services.
“There’s always hope. If you lose hope you have lost the plot.
“You must always remain hopeful. And that is something we try to say to people. ‘Don’t lose hope’.”