Homeless women need housing and support

This week is Homeless Person’s Week and a chance to think seriously about homelessness in Australia. For us, it is an opportunity to reflect on our work with women who are homeless, and how we can best provide support.     

There has been much comment in the media about the growing numbers of people who are homeless and the need for more safe and affordable housing. We couldn’t agree more. However, we also know that support is crucial to women and their children who are trying to free themselves from homelessness and/or family violence.

Every year we provide accommodation and support to hundreds of women and children through our homeless and family violence services. And we do much more. We support women to improve their bond with children; we ensure school-aged children return to school, and toddlers have the chance to play. We are currently seeking funding to offer a wider and more accessible range of skills workshops, building on the success of our current social and recreation program. More women will be able to take advantage of sessions that will include financial advice and counselling, legal advice and wellbeing programs; learn music, join a choir and have the chance to learn to cook, sew and read. These skills are critical if we are to support women achieve independence.

Funding for this range of supports is seen as a luxury, a ‘nice-to-have’; it doesn’t fit neatly into this era of cost-cutting and reallocation of funds amidst a desire to introduce competition into community services.As we contend in our submission to a recent Issues Paper from the Productivity Commission, whilst the drive for better outcomes and value for money is welcomed, the introduction of competition into human services may not be the best way to achieve efficiency.

We find that we are more able to ‘innovate’, with funds from the philanthropic sector, such as our award-winning Court Support 4 Kids program. This more flexible funding actually drives efficiencies, we have discovered, because it allows us to correct, evaluate and learn as the program progresses, rather than become stuck in bureaucratic red tape.

Our organisation is made up of dedicated, skilled people who help women navigate the myriad services they need to sort out their situation. No two days are alike. Culturally sensitive support is critical, as is the ability to diffuse anger and anxiety and to create space for women to think, talk and plan. We support women, not statistics, who each have their own story and their own dreams. Without this range of supports, women will remain on the brink of homelessness.

As part of Homeless Person’s Week, we have been delighted to welcome the Minister for Housing, Martin Foley, to see progress underway at Pickett Street in Footscray. With funding from the Sisters of Mercy and the Victorian Government, we will be opening the $11 million housing and skills centre in late November. It will be the state’s first purpose built accommodation for women who are homeless. We will be regularly updating you on work, and our campaign to raise $1 million to ensure we continue our mission to rebuild lives.

We must not settle for complacency and label homelessness as one of those ‘wicked problems’ that can’t be solved. It can, and the provision of affordable housing needs to remain high on the agenda of all levels of government. In the meantime, McAuley Community Services for Women is making a difference, family by family, all year round.

This newsletter is filled with extraordinary stories about our on-the-ground work, our advocacy, and the work of our tireless supporters who are helping us achieve our mission. Enjoy, and thank you.