CEO message July 2018

We are about to celebrate a significant milestone. Ten years ago, on August 1 2008, two services which each had long histories of supporting women and their children – Regina Coeli and Mercy Care — were formed into McAuley Community Services for Women.

Whilst the entity was new, it drew on a rich tradition of care, compassion and innovation right from the start. Each service had blazed a trail in previously neglected areas in working with women.

Regina Coeli in North Melbourne, initially operated by the Legion of Mary, had been a haven for women who were homeless as far back as the 1930s, before the Sisters of Mercy began operating it in the mid 1980s.

Mercy Care was established in 1988 after Sheila Heywood, a Sister of Mercy, answered a knock on the convent door. It was a distraught woman clearly showing signs of trauma. Sr Sheila was already searching for ways to meet her conviction that she was being called to reach out to the poor and invisible. The woman’s cry for help, and the fact that there was actually nowhere safe for her to go, helped Sr Sheila realise that women needed immediate help when trying to escape family violence.

‘They don’t want it tomorrow: they want help now,’ she said.

This was the impetus for the establishment of the first family violence crisis accommodation for women in Victoria.

The joining together of Regina Coeli and Mercy Care, with their combined strengths, was a natural fit. It also gave us an overarching view of the ways that homelessness and family violence intersect, particularly for women, as well as seeing the contributing impact of mental health and other issues. Since then, we have been keen to ensure that we addressed all issues simultaneously. We wanted to offer women and children the greatest chance of settling safely and permanently.

After all, there is little point offering a house to a woman who is homeless because of family violence, if poverty, poor health and loneliness drive her back to a violent partner.

The two pioneering organisations were fortunate to have magnificent community support in their early years, and this tradition continues to the present day. In the past 12 months we have seen yet again incredible generosity which has been essential for us to continue and expand our work: generosity of time and skill from our volunteers, schools and community groups; fundraising events; the continued flow of clothing, toiletries, toys and other necessities into our services, and the special efforts to make occasions such as Christmas Day or Mother’s Day less lonely for women and children. Most of all there is kindness and thoughtfulness lying behind the donations, the little notes directly to the women who will receive them, and the extra efforts to wrap and present gifts beautifully.

Again I must thank you all for these extraordinary efforts over the past 12 months and assure you they are appreciated and valued more than you can know.

Evaluation reports give our work a tick

Two reports will be out very soon showing excellent outcomes from initiatives that are making a real difference to women's lives. Our WEstjustice partnership is giving legal and financial help to women we support, who have financial problems and debt that has accrued through an abusive relationship. WEstjustice legal centre lawyers have been extraordinary in their generosity, as this pilot was unfunded, as well as their skill and their effectiveness in advocating for policy change. In just four months there have been exceptional outcomes. Twenty-four women have been assisted and amazingly, $100,000 of debt which was causing hardship and stress has been waived. (You can read more about this partnership here).

An evaluation of our Court Support 4 Kids program, which provides a trained children’s worker in select Magistrates' Courts to provide support to women attending to family violence legal matters, is also being prepared. In the last year alone this program helped 1452 women and children across the three courts where it operates. McAuley operates the program at Sunshine Magistrates’ Court (where we saw 526 children and young people last year). Our partners Bethany Community Services and Eastern Domestic Violence Services (EDVOS) provide the service at Geelong and Ringwood Magistrates' Courts respectively. We are very heartened to hear it is held in high regard by court staff and gives peace of mind to the women attending the court. Importantly, the report has found that no-one else has put a spotlight on this issue before.

Homelessness Week (August 6-12) is fast approaching. A national campaign called Everybody’s Home is also raising awareness of not just homelessness, but the bleak picture for many created by a lack of housing affordability, stagnation of social housing options, and the stresses faced by renters. I encourage you to join this campaign.