Op-shopping for good: Supporting Women’s Services

Olivia Killeen, Communication and Social Policy Officer
Olivia Killeen Communication and Social Policy Officer
18 March 2024
Kate from our women's house team

In celebration of International Women’s Day this month, we spoke to Women’s Services Manager, Kate Heron, about the importance of specialised services for women experiencing and at risk of homelessness.

Can you tell us about your role at Sacred Heart Mission and the different programs and services Sacred Heart Mission offers for women?

As Program Manager for Women’s Services, I oversee three different programs. My role is to ensure the programs can operate smoothly and remove any barriers causing disruptions to the operations. There are three programs that make up Women’s Services: Women’s House, Homefront, our crisis accommodation service, and Bethlehem Community.

Women’s House is an engagement hub for people identifying as female, or gender diverse, either experiencing or at risk of homelessness. People can attend and engage in 1:1 support with Pathways Workers or they can utilise the space for social interaction with others. There are showers and laundry facilities available as well as breakfast and lunch Monday – Friday.

Homefront is a crisis accommodation where up to 11 people identifying as female or gender diverse can stay for up to 6 weeks. During their stay, residents engage in 1:1 case management support with a focus on their barriers to accessing long term housing.

Bethlehem Community offers therapeutic support and accommodation for 10 people identifying as female or gender diverse for up to 2 years. Alongside the accommodation, residents are supported by support workers and a case manager focusing on enhancing life skills and independence and accessing long term housing.

Who are we seeing coming through our doors, and what are the unique challenges they face?

There is such a diverse cohort of women that engage with all three programs. However, some recent trends observed over the last 12-18 months are that there are increased numbers of women presenting to our services who are experiencing domestic and family violence (DFV). We are also seeing more women from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, and women who have neurodiverse needs.

Staff have also observed an increased number of women entering homelessness for the first time, particularly older women. More women are presenting with children, and we’ve seen people seeking support with managing their private rental and struggling financially – especially those receiving the Jobseeker payment.

Homefront have also been supporting residents with donated meals and food because of the current cost-of-living crisis. There is also a population of women accessing our services with restrictions to their visas, such as limited or no working rights, and who are ineligible for government financial support.

Kate opens the front door of our women's house for a client

How does gender inequality impact on women’s experiences of homelessness? What are the unique barriers that women face in accessing services?

There are several reasons that women’s experiences of homelessness are impacted by gender inequality. Many face financial disadvantage due to disparities in wages, being unable to access the job market while raising families or returning to work after breaks in employment, and having limited or no superannuation as a result. Single parent households in particular are facing challenges with affording rent, living costs and childcare costs.

Some women are experiencing and fleeing DFV after being unsafe in their homes. Many women presenting to us have experienced trauma due to behaviours perpetrated by males which has significantly impacted their mental health and daily living. Feelings of stigma and shame have often been expressed, particularly from (older) children who have accessed services with their mothers.

How does Sacred Heart Mission address these barriers?

Every person presenting to Women’s Service are offered an initial intake which allows the woman to share her experience 1:1 with a staff member and receive a service and support that is person-centered and specific to her. All staff members work within a trauma-informed approach and are skilled with working with people presenting in crisis. They recognise the challenges people are facing and seek avenues to support them with overcoming their barriers. They are also able to support women with accessing support from other specialist support services.

Sacred Heart Mission’s 14 Op Shops raised $35,350 For Women’s Services on Friday 8 March, International Women’s Day. What does this additional funding mean for your teams?

On behalf of Women’s Services, I cannot express how grateful we are to everyone that supported this campaign by shopping at our Op Shops on International Women’s Day. The amount raised is amazing – it came as such a shock!

As we have such a diverse cohort of women accessing services, their needs are also diverse. However, there are specific items each program tries to have on hand for women accessing their services that we can purchase with the additional funds, for example:

  • Women’s House will stock up on socks, tracksuit bottoms and sleeping bags in preparation for the colder months.
  • Bethlehem Community and Homefront often try to support women by providing household items when they are moving into their new accommodation. They find items such as quilts, bedding, crockery, pots and pans, food hampers etc are vital when people are transitioning into their new properties.

To break it down further, $150 covers one night of accommodation at Homefront, and $1,982 covers the costs of running Women’s House for one day. Thank you for standing with women experiencing homelessness this International Women’s Day. Your generosity is so greatly appreciated and allows us to continue to support women to exit homelessness for good.