Health and nutrition grows at Cornerstone

Carol and registered nurse Julie with a bounty of tomatoes from the Cornerstone community garden.

A community garden at the Cornerstone charity in Dandenong are providing a haven for people at risk of homelessness.

The gardeners plant vegetable seeds and seedlings and harvest fresh produce for the Cornerstone kitchen’s meals served throughout the week.

The plots are growing a “sense of achievement and productivity” among the gardeners, says chief executive Naomi Paterson.

“A lot of participants are living in rooming houses, or are rough sleepers, and without access to their own gardens.

“We find that a lot of community members are quite disconnected from the earth and where their food comes from.

“Being able to provide opportunities to be involved in, and learn new skills, where previously they might have been limited because of their living situations, has been very valuable.”

As a further resource, community health nurse Julie Monteiro is co-located at the garden as part of the Bolton Clarke Homeless Persons Program (HPP).

“It is a positive space where conversations can be held over gardening, a place people can attend outside of where they are living, there is no cost, it is fun and good exercise and people can eat a healthy lunch afterwards.

“It can take time to get to know a new client, and this is a great space to do that. Sometimes it is hard to find a confidential space to visit and if people are moving addresses, this is a place we can meet to discuss their health.”

Carol, a Homeless Person Program client who has been involved in the Cornerstone Garden club since it began, says the garden is like a home.

“I believe it is a necessity – more places should have them,” she said.

“I come here and am amazed at what we get. When I come here, I wonder what is new, what has changed? It does wonders for my mental health; it is my escape from reality.”

She values the help and advice from having Julie on site.

“I wouldn’t have gone to the doctor if I hadn’t spoken with Julie. She helped me navigate the Covid-19 immunisations.

“I talk about things that matter and I talk about things that don’t. I know what I picked last Tuesday went into our Sunday night meal and there were 15-20 people there.

“I share what I do here with my children and my daughter is now doing an agriculture course, inspired by my time here in the garden over the years.”

Cornerstone is also a hub for other services Orange Sky Laundry, One Voice Shower Van, Nourish Church and The Dandenong Baptist Church.

The Bolton Clarke Homeless Persons Program operates at several community gardens across Melbourne.

It has 61 community health nurses working with about 1500 clients every year to access health services and support.