For Maria, the experience of homelessness came as a shock. “I never thought at the age of 51 that I would be homeless,” she says.
In 2017, Maria moved to Melbourne after leaving an abusive relationship in her home country of New Zealand. “I was in a domestic violence situation in Auckland. You get to a point where you just say enough. I had enough. My family in Australia offered to help me if I moved, so I left.”
However, when Maria arrived in Melbourne the support her family promised fell through. “I was homeless a week after arriving. I moved around and around into motels, crisis accommodation, with some family and then friends.”
In a new city and country, it was a challenging time for Maria. “I felt alone and on edge.” Maria sought help and was referred to Sacred Heart Mission’s Bethlehem Community through a partner organisation. “It was very good timing,” she says.
Moving to Bethlehem Community was a big adjustment, but a welcome one. “At first I felt a bit scared but as I got to know people it got a lot better.” A turning point for Maria came through a connection with one of the staff. “I was feeling a bit anxious and defensive and one of the lovely workers just looked at me one day and she said, ‘Maria you look lovely when you smile.’ It meant a lot to me and from there I really started appreciating this place so much more. It’s my home.”
For the first time in a long time Maria felt safe and secure. “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 was excited about making her room her own and enjoys adding personal touches like framed photos of loved ones.
“It gave me the ability to just be, and to come down from being so anxious. It gave me space to breathe.”
Living at Bethlehem Community has also given Maria confidence. Cooking has always been a passion and she loves picking ingredients from the garden. “I’ve always been into gardening and the community garden here is absolutely marvelous.”
Maria cooks for her fellow residents every Tuesday, serving up meals like fresh green salads and spanakopita. “It’s been a big help personally. All the other places I stayed while homeless, I wasn’t able to cook but here I can control the kitchen. I keep it spic and span.”
In addition to cooking, Maria says the activities at Bethlehem Community have helped her to grow. “We do meditation, lots of crafts and music. I’ve done things that I would have said in the past, ‘I can’t do that.’ But I get encouragement from the women and I’ve completed a lot of new things. It’s really cool.”
Since coming to Bethlehem Community, Maria has also received life coaching support and has been setting personal goals, and achieving them. Before Covid hit, she was also volunteering at a local op shop.
Maria has come a long way since arriving in Australia. She wants people to understand that homelessness can happen to anyone.
“You just can’t judge, and it’s important to realise that everyone’s experience of homelessness is different.”
She says she would encourage any other women experiencing homelessness to reach out to Sacred Heart Mission. “Come forth and learn about yourself and accept all the help you can.”
For Maria, the support and safe environment have given her the space to flourish.
“I’m more confident, outspoken. I have the opportunity to work on myself. I’m really thankful for Bethlehem Community. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”
Stay up to date with our monthly newsletter, Heartbeat