From homelessness to hope

McAuley House, Victoria’s first purpose built accommodation and support hub for women who are homeless opened in Footscray on November 30. Two women, who have had a long association with McAuley House, gave a compelling account of their arrival at McAuley House and the impact it has had on their lives. The opening celebration was attended by politicians, Sisters of Mercy, supporters, donors and staff.     

The $11m building has been largely funded through the Institute of Sisters of Mercy of Australia and Papua New Guinea ($7m) and the Andrews Labor Government ($4m). The idea for a ‘new’ McAuley House, to replace the current building in North Melbourne, which was built as an orphanage in the 1930s, emerged four years ago. Construction of the 25 bedroom, four-storey building, which began two years ago, is now complete and the women will move in before Christmas.

Jocelyn Bignold, CEO for McAuley Community Services for Women, said: “Our objective was to build a sustainable building that offers women facing homelessness a safe community that promotes respect and values the dignity and worth of each woman.

“Ultimately, McAuley House is designed to foster a spirit of harmony, security and empower women to achieve independence. We all deserve decent homes and supportive environments. We have a transformational building which we hope will stimulate change in the lives of those who live here," she added.

McAuley House has a specialist focus on those women who have experienced, or are experiencing, family violence and mental illness. In addition to accommodation, it will also act as a hub for community services that will reach over 100 women each year. New programs that are sensitive to women’s specific needs will be pioneered, including education and employment, health, social and recreation opportunities.

“This building will become the hub of our work – we are open every day of the year and will reach many more women through this site; particularly women now stuck in refuges,” Ms Bignold told guests.

“We tailor our support so that each person can move on confidently and remain safely housed once they leave, always knowing that they can call back in for companionship or support if they need it.”

“This building is a showcase of how we can provide services to other people who are homeless – we’ve long known that light, well designed and beautiful spaces promote health and well being – our model should be replicated elsewhere.”

This is particularly pertinent at this time when the demand for housing is higher than ever. Last year Victoria experienced:

  • 19% increase in the need for services in the last 12 months
  • 10,000 in urgent need of housing
  • 39% because of family violence

The new building, designed by Hede Associates, includes 25-ensuite individual rooms for residents that are light and spacious, each with their own balcony where residents can grow flowers, vegetables or herbs, and have a space of their own.

McAuley House has a main dining room, a laundry and a purpose-built medical room. There are IT areas, several sitting areas, a recreation room, and meeting rooms for activities from education and training programmes to well-being or work-related skills courses.

Throughout the building, there is specially commissioned artwork by renowned street artists including international star Alice Pasquini and well-known Footscray artist Baby Guerrilla.

Caption: Mercy Women at the official opening included, Leadership team member Sr Theresia Tina, Sr Maureen O'Sullivan who volunteers at McAuley House and Gail Quirk who first lived at McAuley House 26 years ago. 

5 December 2016