Social inclusion: what's it all about?
The women supported by McAuley have typically survived, and continue to overcome, many challenging life events. Often they have drifted away from, or lost, family and friendship connections due to trauma and family violence. Being homelessness can lead to stigma. Constantly uprooting your life and making decisions based around immediate safety needs, while trying to become financially independent and get a job, takes its toll and often leads to a deep loneliness and sense of isolation.
Add in — as is the case with many of the women we support — language barriers, physical disabilities, addiction, acquired brain injuries, mental
health challenges, and difficulties with literacy — and you will find women who have few connections. Inevitably, the woman’s confidence, self
worth and purpose have been shattered. Many are simply exhausted. Yet they remain resilient.
From what the women tell us, we know their recovery will involve much more than simply a roof over their head. The women tell us that to recover, and become
independent, they need to be part of a community; they need to belong. This is where the concept of ‘social inclusion’ comes in.
'We start by looking at what women are interested in: it might be music, sport, or art,’ says Shivani, our Social Inclusion Support Worker. ‘We ask the women what they see as their strengths, and take it from there, working collaboratively with the case managers.’
The first step may be about feeling good about themselves. Volunteers from the Young Mercy Links program provide ‘pampering’ sessions, which provide
pedicures, massages and facials. The pampering sessions are not only fun; volunteers are connecting with the women, and the women are connecting
with each other. Sometimes it’s the little things that can make a big difference in someone’s life.
A recently developed conversation group facilitated by a volunteer with a social work background, has also been popular by the women. These low-key chats in the kitchen are more about listening and sharing experiences than heavy topics. They have been especially appreciated by women who are getting ready to transition from McAuley House into the community and may be feeling anxious.
While we offer programs onsite at McAuley House, we also use existing community supports, through partnerships with local services, for example the local fitness centre. This is another way that women can build connections and make new friendships. Many women have begun to attend fitness groups there; initially we help with transport, but where possible women are encouraged to get there independently. Other programs include yoga, English, computers, swimming and art.
The skills developed can lead to some wonderful transformations. One woman who herself used to live at McAuley House returns every week as a volunteer, and with growing confidence, now runs a Zentangle program of mindfulness through art.
We have also partnered with the Western Centre Against Sexual Assault on a pilot program called: ‘Gaining Ground’ for women who have experienced trauma. It helps women understand some of the impacts of trauma through a psychoeducational component in each session, together with art activities and mindfulness techniques.