Our Voice Must Be Heard
Each October two theme weeks are held which draw attention to issues that so often go together and have a significant impact on the women supported by our services. In fact it’s no coincidence that Mental Health Week (running from October 8-14) is swiftly followed by Anti-Poverty Week (October 15-21). Poverty, mental health and social disadvantage are so often intricately connected, together contributing to a raft of other challenges which can sometimes be hard to escape.
We see this strong association between mental health and poverty every day in our work: of the women living at our McAuley House, all of whom have been homeless, 96 per cent have had also had episodes of mental illness.
I was thinking of the complex associations between mental illness, extreme financial disadvantage, and another issue affecting 88 per cent of the women living at McAuley House – family violence – when I recently attended a celebration of the progress of the Jobs Victoria Employment Network.
JVEN, as it is known, was marking a significant milestone – the creation of 2000 jobs so far. This is a particularly encouraging statistic because the program, started just one year ago, focuses on disadvantaged jobseekers who face barriers – such as mental illness and family violence - to finding and retaining work.
Our own McAuley Works is one of the JVEN- funded programs and we are proud and excited about the fact that despite only getting off the ground in January, it has already assisted 16 women to get jobs. Overall, 112 women are now registered, receiving personalised and intensive support to find and then sustain employment.
McAuley Works participants are facing enormous barriers to breaking into the workforce. Frequently there are major gaps in their education and work experience. Social isolation, such as limited access to family support or community networks, also adds to the challenge, especially when they are also dealing with health concerns or limited English.
Being employed is a foundation from which recovery from trauma, family violence and mental illness can be built. It can mean financial independence and greater access to stable housing.. Not only that: the confidence and self-esteem that come from meaningful work are essential elements in restoring a woman’s ability to be safe, and make it less likely that she will return to a damaging and violent relationship.
You can read more about how we’ve been going about McAuley Works, and the difference it has made to the women who are now in jobs, here.
As always, over the past month we have benefited from massive community support of our fundraising efforts. The generosity of our donors is an inspiration and it drives us forward in a determination to do even better. Time and again at functions and events, I hear from people supporting our work that they themselves have had some form of personal connection with the issues that McAuley deals with, and I thank them for turning this knowledge towards practical help for the work we do.