Iconic Geraldton safe-space service in cash crisis

Francesca MannGeraldton Guardian
Cameliers Guesthouse manager Phiona Hamilton and Geraldton team leader Alison Hilton on the Cameliers Guesthouse balcony. Because of a lack of funding and volunteers, the short-stay and emergency accommodation service could be forced to close.
Camera IconCameliers Guesthouse manager Phiona Hamilton and Geraldton team leader Alison Hilton on the Cameliers Guesthouse balcony. Because of a lack of funding and volunteers, the short-stay and emergency accommodation service could be forced to close. Credit: Francesca Mann, The Geraldton Guardian

Too few volunteers and a lack of funds is threatening the future of an iconic Geraldton guesthouse.

For more than three decades, Cameliers Guesthouse has been offering a place to stay to some of the community’s most vulnerable people.

Located in the heart of Geraldton’s CBD on Marine Terrace, the self-funded service can house up to 40 people at once, averaging about 30 people a night.

Residents usually stay between three days and three months, but some have stayed at the guesthouse for up to 12 years.

Cameliers Guesthouse, affectionately known as Camels, provides low-cost and emergency accommodation and gives people the chance to rebuild their lives, free of judgment, in a safe place.

But according to Geraldton team leader Alison Hilton, the guesthouse was facing imminent closure due to rising costs, small volunteer numbers and a lack of funding.

“We don’t know how long we have left ... our financial constraints are making it extremely difficult,” she said.

“If we had to close, up to 30 people would need housing — some residents would be able to bunk with family, but others would be homeless.

“For some, this is their home. A shared space is what they’re comfortable with ... (some) would struggle to maintain tenancy.

“It’s not a comforting thought and it’s not what we want, but there’s a limit to how long we can keep doing this.”

Cameliers Guesthouse has been operated by Fusion Australia, a national Christian youth and community organisation, since 1984.

The not-for-profit organisation has 15 centres around Australia, each catering to different needs in the community.

Mrs Hilton said while the focus in Geraldton was on mental health and homelessness, anyone who needed a safe place to stay was welcome at Cameliers Guesthouse.

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“We’re working with people in crisis but they may not be homeless — some just need a break or are in transition,” she said.

“There’s so many different reasons people come to us ... we’re a port in the storm.

“We believe in second chances.

“Everyone should have the space to think about where they are ... and everyone has a chance to make different choices.

“We want to see people thrive.”

The small team at Cameliers Guesthouse is largely made up of volunteers, with staff needed overnight and on weekends.

With a large number of people living in a small space, Cameliers manager Phiona Hamilton said tempers did flare up from time to time and staff must be able to handle conflict resolution.

But the team have discovered many residents just need someone to talk to. “A lot have been looked down on in the past and no one wants to give them the time of day,” Mrs Hamilton said.

“I’m a people person and I’ll sit down and have a conversation and treat them like a human being.

“They may have burned bridges but this is a new place; let’s try and rebuild your life.

“There’s a lack of judgment from us. The past is in the past, but you’re still a person and you still matter.” Cameliers receives a small grant from the Department of Communities for people who arrive in crisis with no money. Fusion’s WA State director Andrew Braun said Cameliers needed $200,000 to keep the doors open for another year.

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