A life touched

Many people have commented on the domino effect of schizophrenia; the way it envelopes everything it encounters. For Carmel Thomas, Co-Founder of The Haven Foundation, this became a reality. At seventeen years old, her son Jaime was diagnosed with the disorder. At the time Jaime was a skilled tennis player, preparing to embark on a professional career that potentially may have seen him become well renowned. Suddenly and almost overnight Jaime became ill. It sent shockwaves through Carmel’s life; and slowly her life unravelled, causing her to lose almost everything she held dear - her marriage, her economic stability, a sense of order in her life, but most importantly she had to watch on as her son disappeared further and further into the disorder, right before her very eyes.

Jaime playing tennis, aged 7 years

Carmel knew Elizabeth, who has a daughter with schizophrenia. Elizabeth introduced her to Isabel, Christine, Dawn and Rosalie and they talked about a housing environment for people with schizophrenia. A place with a sense of permanency, as homelessness and poor living conditions remain a huge problem for people living with illness. “When you’re on the street you’re very, very vulnerable.” They all shared the same vision to find a safe and permanent home for their children and others like them.

Together they created IHPNA, the Interdependant Homes for People Needing Assistance and with determination and a lot of hard work their dreams of a haven became a reality. A team of highly skilled people were drawn to the project and then St Josephs Catholic Church became involved, agreeing to lease an unused convent for 40 years.

The State Government Department of Housing, philanthropic trusts and many, many people rallied around raising funds, providing legal and financial advice and then Haven became a legal entity. The Haven Foundation was born.

The Haven Foundation exists to offer long term housing for people living with mental illness, providing a sense of permanency and a home for life. Carmel states, "Haven is not a medical facility, it is a domestic model; the tenants must have insight into their condition and not have a drug or alcohol problem. They need to be given the opportunity to relearn skills, make friends and integrate with the community and with support, recover to the best of their ability. Haven aims to provide assistance, support, and a place to call home.

And so the dream became a reality and the reward for hard work? Construction of the Haven Units South Yarra Project commenced.

Written by Corey Hulls & Emily Mead - 2009