Wintringham was formed in 1989 by Mr Bryan Lipmann as an independent non-profit organisation, which believed that all older people have rights and dignity and should have the opportunity to maintain the lifestyles of their choice. It seeks to redress the lack of access to decent permanent accommodation for elderly homeless people, who are particularly vulnerable to life in homeless persons’ shelters. It emphasises that people who are both elderly and homeless should be treated as other elderly people in the state, rather than be categorised and treated as homeless. The Port Melbourne Hostel is the third hostel to be developed in the Melbourne area by Wintringham and its design and management has evolved from experience of the previous two hostels.

The Wintringham Port Melbourne Hostel was opened in July 1996 and is home to 35 frail older people who were formerly living on the streets or in temporary housing. Eighty-five per cent of the residents are male. The site for the project was disused railway land that had been reclaimed for housing and is an area familiar to the homeless people of Melbourne. The hostel is of high quality design, using highly attractive timber construction. It consists of six cottages set within handsome landscaped gardens plus administrative and staff accommodation. Apart from the private staff areas, the entire complex is on a single level with interest created by raised and sunken garden beds. A small community hall has also been provided, which contains a pool table, a fridge, and double opening doors which lead out onto a garden barbecue area.

Each of the cottages houses five, six or seven residents. Each resident has their own fully furnished bungalow style room with a personal shower and toilet. Each cottage has its own lounge and dining area, together with a fully equipped domestic style kitchen and bathroom/laundry facilities. A part-time house carer is responsible for purchasing and preparing meals for the residents in that cottage. This allows individual likes and dislikes to be catered for that in a way that would be impossible with a central dining room and kitchen. The house carer also provides support and assistance as needed to the residents in the cottage. All rooms lead onto a veranda that gives each resident additional private space.

The cluster-style accommodation is favoured because of the small-scale, homelike and non-institutional image that is created. The building design enables residents to live independently and to socialise, if they wish, with other residents. Space within the project is divided into space for private use (such as the bedroom), space for personal, social contact such as the veranda, neighbourhood meeting places such as the kitchen and lounge of the cottage and community meeting places such as the community room. This allows for a clear demarcation of space and adds to the sense of security and independence of the resident. The exterior space is divided into courtyards linked along a central circulation path with each courtyard having a distinctive landscaping theme. The shapes and layouts of the buildings and gardens are based on Feng Shui principles and provide a supportive and nurturing environment for the staff and residents, control the views from and to the site and provide variety in the scale of the spaces. All parts of the hostel are accessible by wheelchair. Passive solar design was used and windows are oriented north for solar gain wherever possible. Wide verandas, cross ventilation, ceiling fans and landscaping all provide cooling in the summer.

The total project cost was A$2,325,522 (US$1,860,418) or A$66,444 (US$53,155) per bedspace. This is at the low end of the cost spectrum for this type of housing, that can often be as high as A$100,000 (US$80,000) per bed-space. The land cost a further A$780,000 (US$624,000) and was paid for by the state government. The national government met 98 per cent of the total construction cost.

The costs of running the hostel are funded by the state as for other hostels of that size. The rent charged is 75 per cent of the state pension received by the residents, which is 10 per cent lower than that typically charged in other hostels. The services provided at the hostel include all meals and refreshments, cleaning and maintenance services and laundry services. In addition staff assistance is provided with the tasks of daily living, including personal care and medications and a 24 hour emergency service is available. Visiting medical practitioners and other health care professionals, emotional support and advocacy and leisure activities are also provided. One of the cottages successfully accommodates residents with dementia, but should residents require full-time nursing care they need to move on to specialist nursing accommodation.

The use of standard domestic construction techniques rather than commercial construction helped to reduce costs. Without forsaking quality, design was carried out to minimise costs wherever possible. Using the verandas as circulation space meant that less internal area was required in each cottage. Many design elements perform multiple roles, garden seating/retaining walls have an immediate structural purpose and balustrades and retaining walls provide non-obvious continuous handrail to assist passage. Timber was chosen for its simplicity and economy of construction as well as its adaptability to accommodate change in the future. Radiata pine from sustainable plantations is the primary structural material used and where exposed it is treated with organic solvents. Pine flooring provides an inexpensive, durable, easily cleaned and attractive flooring in the cottages and allows easy access to the sub-floor services.

The Port Melbourne Hostel has already received commendations and accolades for both its design and management. It has triggered much interest, both at home and overseas, for its pioneering approach to housing older people and has received visits from many professionals as well as government representatives concerned with the care of older people, both in Australia and overseas.

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