Finding Home

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.

-Maya Angelou, African-American author, poet, dancer, actress, singer and activist (1928-2014).

There’s a house and then there’s something altogether different called a home. Musician Christina Green works in both, supporting women at McAuley House to find a refuge in music and sometimes finding a way to ‘crawl into the space between the notes’ – an image so beautifully created by African-American writer and activist Maya Angelou.

Christina, a music therapist, is a recreation worker at McAuley House and along with other staff offers an extensive recreation program for the women who live at McAuley House. For Christina, trained in the Nordoff-Robbins approach to music therapy in London, it is about supporting the women to pursue something that will help them heal and find an ‘inner home ‘.

Christina began at McAuley House in 2005 when it was known as Regina Coeli, and she has developed the music side of the recreation program over the years. She offers women individual lessons in the guitar and piano and runs the McAuley House Women’s Choir, which performed at Melbourne’s Federation Square as part of Homeless Persons' Week in August.

But music isn’t Christina’s only strength and she believes there are many ways for a woman to ‘find home’. She also teaches knitting, runs the meditation sessions, tai chi for people with mobility issues and poetry writing.

“A lot of the women who come to McAuley House have started life over and over again, often losing what they had gained. In music therapy we want the gain to be permanent and to permeate their wider life,” Christina said.

“Activities that don’t require a particular language like music, meditation and knitting are very good for everyone because you can join the group no matter what language you speak and you automatically share a common language and can learn from each other and then take that practice away, but keep the bonds you have made with the other women,” Christina said.

Christina believes it is important for everyone, but particularly the women at McAuley House to develop a practice, something they can always return to, like home. If you learn to knit, meditate, sing, or to play an instrument you can take the practice with you and enjoy it no matter where you are or what is going on in your life. “A physical home like McAuley House is very important, but here we are also trying to give the women a place where they belong,” she said.

“For those who feel ready to do so, chances to perform, for example at community events like the recent one at Federation Square, are a great next step for confidence, a way of connecting with the wider community and of giving something through the practice and skills learned”, Christina said.

Recreation worker Leonie Lawrence completes a recreation plan for each woman who comes to McAuley House and the program offers a range of activities to try to ensure each woman’s needs are met.

McAuley Community Services for Women's Chief Executive Officer Jocelyn Bignold recently said: “When people start in the program they feel alone and often resistant to spending time with others. They have no idea what their hobbies are or what fun can feel like.”

“The therapeutic benefits of the recreation program become more obvious the longer the women are involved. Overtime, barriers come down and we see women share glimpses of themselves with each other.”

Christina, who is also completing a PhD in musicology and composition at the University of Western Sydney, loves working with the women at McAuley House. “It is hugely rewarding to be with the women and do things like sing in the choir for the first time and learn to really love the experience of singing together, being part of something and knowing they belong.”

In the past year McAuley House supported 93 women. Of these 93 women all were homeless, 30% had experienced family violence, 73% had a mental health diagnosis, 34% were referred to us from a hospital or a mental health service.

It costs $15,000 each year to assist each woman in our homelessness program. Funding comes from the government, community and philanthropic giving.