Closing the door on homelessness

Olivia Killeen, Communication and Social Policy Officer
Olivia Killeen Communication and Social Policy Officer
18 January 2024
A small house being held in the palms of a persons hands

How Homefront creates a safe space for women exiting homelessness.

A breath of fresh air

Imagine what it feels like to move into your own apartment, after years of couch surfing, sleeping rough or other forms of homelessness. Having a safe place to call home and a door to close behind you that can be locked.

“When I was homeless, everywhere I stayed was either on the floor or on a couch. But when I moved here I had my own room and a key. I can close the door. It’s my own space.” – Maria

Sacred Heart Mission’s crisis accommodation service for women, called Homefront, works as a circuit-breaker in the cycle of homelessness. The Homefront team provides temporary homes where women can stabilise their lives and access support to find a permanent home.

“Having safe accommodation at Homefront allows women to take a deep breath and sense of calm after having experienced some pretty difficult situations,” Program Coordinator Regina says.

When someone first moves in, staff work with residents assessing their independent living skills such as cooking, cleaning and maintaining their living space. If required, staff can refer to external agencies for support such as NDIS, or an occupational therapist, that will help them to build daily living skills.

Understanding a resident’s needs helps to inform appropriate matching to their next tenancy – if a woman requires supported accommodation as her next step, this will be arranged. Homefront also refers women to external health and mental health services, legal support, assistance with employment or family services.

Former resident Jess* says that she felt “so blessed to be in such a beautiful home and environment at Homefront.”

“With the care and support from the Sacred Heart Mission team, I’m really excited to do all I can to play my role in finding my feet again, and a more positive future. Everyone has been beyond amazing,” says Jess.

woman looking at the camera smiling slightly

More than just housing

Having a home is the first step for people to exit homelessness. But it takes more than that:

After months or years of distress and living in a constant state of fight or flight, and a focus on survival, suddenly having safe, secure housing can be an overwhelming experience for some people. While women can now close the door of their homes to protect themselves from physical harm, they can’t shut out past traumas.

“Women may drink or consume other substances as a coping mechanism to escape from the traumatic experiences they have faced,” says Regina. “This pushes those problems away but does not help to overcome them. Being safe, having a home and the right support provides an opportunity for healing – and this journey towards recovery is different for everyone.”

the lounge room of one of the Homefront self contained apartments

Taking time to adjust

Often, Homefront staff find that – when moving into one of the service’s 11 self-contained units – women may not always feel comfortable using the whole apartment initially and may move their mattress and belongings into the lounge room instead. “After sleeping rough for long periods of time, some women say they find it more comfortable to use one room in the apartment,” says Regina. “This has been their practice while sleeping rough to keep their eyes on their items and it has provided them with a small sense of safety.”

If staff notice this happening in their regular safety checks of the units, case managers will discuss strategies and identifying small steps the women can take to use their bedroom, such as taking a short nap in the bedroom and then progressing to one night, and so on.

Many women are open to connecting with psychologists or mental health professionals who are specialists in working through trauma, and Sacred Heart Mission’s own trauma-informed approach means that Homefront staff focus strongly on building trust and rapport with the women.

Former resident Amber* reflects, “after staying at Homefront for a month, I didn’t realise how much it means to feel that someone is looking out for me. There’s always a staff member on site, and that created enough security so that I didn’t need to keep everything in one area of the apartment, and I finally started to feel safe enough to sleep in the bedroom.”