When a person who identifies as a woman is without a home and nowhere to turn, escaping violence or dealing with complex drug, alcohol or mental health issues, they’ll always find a safe supportive space at our Women’s House, Bethlehem Community or Homefront services.
Moreso than ever women need a trusted network of women they can turn to when they hit a low point, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year’s International Women’s Day 2021 theme is “Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world”.
We celebrate our formidable female frontline workers turning up each day, including during a pandemic, to ensure a woman in urgent need has a roof over their head, access to hot food, emotional and social support, as well as hope for their future.
Some of the Bethlehem Community case managers have invested almost 20 years of their life to help lift a woman in crisis by finding them immediate accommodation, support and community while recovering from mental and physical health conditions, violence or drug and alcohol-related issues.
These are courageous women who’ve been dealing with immense trauma and are searching for new beginnings at Bethlehem Community.
Around 400,000 women over 45 are at risk of homelessness in Australia. Each person Bethlehem Community supports is one less woman returning to a harsh, ruthless life on the streets.
“We’re providing a safe, secure environment for the women to regain more control, confidence and skills to become independent once more. To be treated as an equal, to have a voice, autonomy, work with them not for them and encourage them to listen and respect others.”
– Christine, Bethlehem Community Manager (pictured above, right)
“We advocate by providing support to enable them to connect with others, case management, attend rallies, promote IWD, equality towards one another, sharing of information.”
– Eve, Bethlehem Community Residential Support Worker
Women from all walks of life enter the doors of Bethlehem Community each year. The staff’s caring, professional guidance, confidentiality and support has led them to develop an empowered outlook and determination to never return to a life on the streets.
“Every woman we help escape homelessness is a major win for us but we know there needs to be systemic changes to improve a woman’s access to increased pay, affordable housing and eliminate homelessness, domestic violence and poverty,”
– Michele, Bethlehem Community Case Manager
“The changes we need to see in society need to be extended further to investment in sustainable housing and empowering more women to participate in community and politics at the same time as improving their rights and the legal system within family violence, educational programs and early intervention for children on respectful relationships.”
Our Bethlehem Community team is marking International Women’s Day in a special way, with women who matter.
“We’re celebrating International Women’s Day with a lunch and we’ve started working on a puzzle of inspirational women which we’re placing on the notice board and asking women to place motivational quotes around them,” Victoria, Bethlehem Community Wellbeing Social Inclusion Worker says.
Throughout COVID-19, our Women’s House has kept its doors open to women without a home or escaping a violent relationship and trauma, with nowhere else to go.
Julie, our Support and Case Management Worker (pictured above), is often one of the first female case managers on the scene when women first come into the Women’s House at any time of the day needing safety, protection and nourishment.
She and other Women’s House staff have stood firm in the face of drastic change when COVID-19 imposed a whole new set of restrictions and lockdowns which didn’t deter them from turning up each day to offer support to women who were relying on them the most.
True leaders in every sense of the word.
“What I love about my role is working with women and encouraging our clients to take control of their lives and futures by supporting them to stand up, advocate, speak up about their situations, as well as plan their futures.”
– Julie, Support and Case Management Worker
“My mantra is staying focused on the cause of making it better not only for us but for those young women who are evolving,” she says.
“As women, it’s our right to feel safe, loved, cared for and respected. If we don’t practice this, how do we expect anybody else to?
“Depending on COVID-19, I’ll be getting together with my sisters for lunch on International Women’s Day to celebrate being liberated, accomplished and capable women, raising families, grandchildren and now great grandchildren.”
Annie, our Women’s House Support and Case Manager adds, “we speak with women who seek our support about their rights, through a strengths-based approach and consciousness raising as well as provide information to them that support women in accessing their rights.”
“On International Women’s Day, we’re celebrating the strength of diversity in women and when the Women’s House temporarily moves to a new location, we’ll be ensuring our artwork of historical protests for women’s rights, the Trans Pride Flag and the intersectional LGBTQIA+ flag will be displayed proudly in our new location.”
– Emma, Women’s Services Intensive Case Manager
Caitlyn is a seasoned case manager who has supported countless women affected by crisis including family violence, poverty, sexual violence, physical or mental illness, drug or alcohol use, and trauma to permanently exit chronic homelessness and start a new life.
Women can stay for an average of six weeks at Homefront, which has the capacity to house 11 women at a time. Whilst there, they’re allocated a case manager who helps them find safe, long-term accommodation and maintain it. They also have access to intensive counselling to overcome past trauma and build confidence within themselves to make their own decisions.
It takes a special kind of person like Caitlyn to do the job and have the right mix of empathy and resilience to be a supportive presence for women whose lives hang in the balance.
“We aim to provide stability and safety so that women can leave our service with greater independence and a sense of dignity and worth.”
– Hala, Homefront Case Manager (pictured above)
“We provide the gap in housing that many women would fall through. In particular by supporting women who are not Permanent Residents or Australian citizens, and are thereby ineligible for government income support.
“Without our service, these women would often be homeless or reside in unsafe housing where they are at risk of family violence and exploitation.”
“Our team always strives to come up with new ways in which we can empower the women we support and we’re in the process of establishing a bike share project. This will empower the women we support to access the community with more ease and improve their health and fitness,” Julia says.
The Homefront staff are at a critical crossroads in the women’s lives: giving them a safety net and support, ensuring they never return to the crisis.
Without these critical support services at Sacred Heart Mission, many more women, especially during COVID-19, would be left to face dangerous, dire outcomes alone.
“Australia is in the grips of a severe affordable housing shortage and the impact of this is more profound for women due to gender-based financial disadvantage and gendered violence.”
“Women take on more child-caring responsibilities which results in significantly lower earnings from paid work, less secure employment and lower superannuation. They’re disproportionately affected by family and intimate partner violence. A significant number of women presenting to housing services state family violence was the primary reason for their homelessness situation.
“Access to affordable housing would enable women to leave unsafe housing situations without being at risk of homelessness.”
The International Women’s Day 2021 theme of ‘Women in Leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’ is a pertinent one:
Women have been massively disproportionately affected by job losses than men during COVID-19.
“Victoria currently has the highest rate of unemployment amongst women in its history. Whilst this is concerning, it sheds light on issues that were already present prior to COVID-19 such as casualisation of the workforce,” Julia says.
“We’re celebrating women who are continuing to advocate for women’s rights to have secure and safe employment which is a vital component of ending homelessness.”
Watch this video to learn more about how we’re working with women such as *Nat to rebuild their lives after a crisis:
An interview with *Nat, a client at Sacred Heart Mission’s Women’s House, former Support Worker Robbie Chaplin and former Program Coordinator Maria Coelho.
Nat: When I came to the Women’s House, I looked like a lost woman. I was confused. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I just came here to interact with people. It’s make me feel like I’m not alone. A lot of people have a similar experience.
Robbie Chaplin: The women that we work with have had decades of abuse and disadvantage and trauma. To hear their stories, to have them trust you with information that is often really hard to hear. So goodness knows what it’s like to actually live those lives.
Maria Coelho: A lot of women don’t feel safe in mainstream services. So having a place where they can come and sit down and have a cuppa, they know they’re safe. We have an average of 35 women coming through the door every day.
Robbie Chaplin: One of the primary ways of engaging is through the Women’s Engagement Hub. We have showers, washing machines and dryers. We have a sleep room for women who are sleeping rough.
Maria Coelho: Two meals a day, art activities, other programs run by volunteers on a daily basis. All we asked for people at the door is a name. So it doesn’t really need to be their real name. From then on, they can tell us as much or as little as they want.
Robbie Chaplin: We try to work in partnership with them. I think that’s incredibly important.
Maria Coelho: It’s one-on-one support. It goes from actually finding housing, finding crisis accommodation, support with getting ID, getting funding for household appliances or work on their mental health.
Nat: Since I came to the Women’s House, since I met Robbie, to be honest, it changed my life. My focus now is study. I’m studying community service and now I am a diploma student. I already received something. I want to give back. Basically, I just love to meet people in the Women’s House and support.
Maria Coelho: Supporting women, supporting each other.
Robbie Chaplin: You do this work to try and make a difference.
Maria Coelho: Try to empower women, make sure that they’re happy and safe. They can move on with their lives, that whatever crisis they’re in, that’s just a temporary thing. We just need to give people chances. And I think the Women’s House does that beautifully.
Robbie Chaplin: When we can work with the women to help effect the change that they’re seeking, it’s magical.
Nat: The Women’s House is my second home.
Help keep our Women’s House open – donate today!
If you or someone you know is experiencing sexual abuse or family violence, contact:
- National Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence Counselling Service 24-hour helpline 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732
- 24-hour Emergency Accommodation helpline on 1800 800 588
- Safe At Home helpline on 1800 633 937
- SHE (free and confidential counselling and support) on 6278 9090
- Sexual Assault Support Services on 6231 1811, or after hours 6231 1817
- Family Violence Crisis and Support Service on 1800 608 122
- Bravehearts – Sexual Assault Support for Children on 1800 BRAVE 1
- Don’t go it alone. Please reach out for help by contacting Lifeline on 13 11 14
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