Scott Sears – Freeman House

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Scott Sears is the manager of Freeman House, which is a Special Work of the St Vincent de Paul Society that specialises in the provision of residential and community-based rehabilitation services. Scott explains the ‘life saving’ history of this Armidale rehab service and also its plans for the future.

How long have you lived in Armidale?

I was born in Kempsey, but moved to Tamworth when I was 5 and completed all of my school years through to Year 12 at Oxley High School in Tamworth. I then moved to Sydney for 10 years and back to Armidale in 1999 – and have lived here since. My parents still live in Tamworth, and I have a brother who is the resident Police Officer at Somerton Police Station, just outside Tamworth.

 Tell us about your family …

My wife, Leica, is a Registered Nurse and works on the Medical Ward here at Armidale Public Hospital; she has worked there for 10 years. We have 2 sons: Jacob (10 years old) and Harrison (7 years old); both go to Armidale City Public School.

Both children enjoy a range of sports and activities: soccer, football, swimming, motorbikes, horse riding, and Jacob plays the guitar. Both are into their PSP, Wii and everything technological, so they keep me up to date with all the latest gadgets.

Describe a typical day for you at work?

There is no typical day. I can be dealing with staff issues, client issues, counselling, writing tenders, doing payroll, answering emails, in meetings, completing administrative duties such as budgets/accounts/petty cash, presenting at conferences or lectures, in Sydney head office on various committees, recruiting staff – all of the duties that the Manager of a busy Health and Community Service is required to do, I do!

What is the history of Freeman House?

Freeman House was the vision of the volunteers of the local diocesan of SVDP and began in 1979 as a boarding house purchased by and staffed entirely by volunteers of SVDP, to assist people with homelessness and drug and alcohol issues who were sleeping rough in local parks and bushland in the New England region. Over subsequent years, SVDP partnered with the Department of Community Services and the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program with a small recurrent grant and expanded its services and encouraged clients to participate in the 12 step fellowship of AA and NA.

More recently, Freeman House was successful obtaining funding through the National Illicit Drug Scheme (NIDS) and through the Non-Government Treatment Grants Program (NGOTGP) with the Department of Health and Ageing and NSW Health and was redefined as an evidence-based, longer-term residential rehabilitation service. This has required a change to paid professional staff and developing quality management systems and strategic professional partnerships with organisations such as the University of New England and TAFE.

In 2011, Freeman House was successful in securing    $8 million capital funding through the Regional Development Australia Fund to redevelop the facility into a state of the art, purpose built residential rehabilitation service with transitional accommodation capacity.

The facility will have designated educational areas, with the ultimate aim of developing client skills and knowledge to enhance their capacity to live independently.

Tell us about your staff …

We have a fantastic experienced, qualified and committed team of staff at Freeman House. It consists of: myself with 21 years of health and community services experience with several qualifications, including a Bachelor of Health, Ageing and Community Services (Counselling) and Dip Management; our Clinical Team Leader, Adrian Webber, who holds a Bachelor of Psychological Science and Diploma of Counselling; Kelly Smitham, our Quality Improvement Co-ordinator, holds a Masters in Policy and Planning. All staff hold minimum qualifications at Certificate 4 Level in alcohol and other drug and mental health (non clinical), and all Case Managers hold a Diploma of Case Management with membership with the CMSA (Case Management Society of Australia). Several staff hold relevant degrees, and all counsellors are Degree or Diploma qualified and hold current appropriate professional memberships.

The staff are all very experienced, have worked for many years in the health and community services sector and they are all very client outcome focused.

I am very proud of the team at Freeman House and support them 100%. We are also supported by a great volunteer advisory committee and President of Homelessness, Bev Kerr, who is tireless in the work she does around the state. Without the support of the staff, advisory, volunteers and State President, Freeman House would not have had the success it has had to date and be where it is today.

When and why are you relocating your residents?

The residents have already been relocated to another residence in Claude Street, as all of the residential (other than the heritage building) will be demolished, so it would not be possible to continue to run services from Crescent Street.

We also have offices in Jessie Street, where the Community Case Managers, myself, Quality Improvement, Administration and Intake and Admission are working from. The rebuild is expected to start in June and will take about 18 months to complete.

What can we expect from the ‘new’ Freeman House?

The new Freeman House will consist of a 24 bed residential rehabilitation service – all rooms with their own bathrooms on the Claverie Street side. Updated service and kitchen facilities, a clinic, a chapel and boardroom in the main entry of the heritage building, which will have restored wunderlich ceilings.

We hope to have some detox beds, crisis homeless beds, a new learning centre called the Ozanam learning centre, which will have counselling rooms, group rooms, music, art therapy rooms, kitchen and training rooms. There is office space for all the staff, and 6 transitional units for people making the step moving back into the community. It will be a fantastic facility for Armidale and the wider community.

Can you give us a resident’s recovery success story?

There are lots of success stories, but one that I like is a lady I worked with who still comes back and visits. She drank and abused prescription pills and had lost everything: her job, family, her health, all her money; she had lots of debt.

We worked with her across a 12 month period and through lifestyle changes, her health improved, through counselling and the program she learnt about destructive thoughts, feelings and behaviours and how to develop support networks. Through participation in counselling and rehabilitation, she was able to work off state debt through a program we are linked into with Government called Work Development Orders, and she reconnected with her family.

She is now working and engaged to be married, and her children are back living with her. She comes and visits when she comes up for conferences, and I always love catching up and hearing about what she is up to.

That’s why I like working in drug and alcohol rehab; I get to see people making significant life changes and positive gains and improvements – that is very rewarding.

Thanks Scott.

This story was published in issue 61 of New England Focus

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