McAuley House Ballarat opened in February last year as an extension of McAuley Community Services for Women that is based in Footscray.
The Ballarat site provides accommodation for eight women in individually decorated bedrooms with an en-suite and shared kitchen and dining area.
McAuley Community Services for Women chief executive Jocelyn Bignold OAM said finding suitable accommodation for the women to move in to after their stay had been a challenge during the first year of the service.
“It is always a challenge to find suitable housing for people to move on to, especially if they want to reunify with family members and children,” she said.
Ms Bignold said the organisation was working with City of Ballarat to establish secure affordable and accessible housing for residents to move in to after they leave McAuley House.
Staff are exploring the possibility of converting unoccupied spaces above Ballarat CBD shops to safe spaces for women and children to live.
“We are at the exploration stage and there is a lot of work to do, but the potential is exciting,” Ms Bignold said.
The Ballarat site is McAuley’s first service based outside of Melbourne, an opportunity that came about when the Sisters of Mercy vacated their property that was a good fit to provide a response to the increasing demand for homelessness support in Ballarat.
McAuley House Ballarat offers an integrated support model for women who have experienced homelessness and family violence to take control of their lives, with a focus on addressing trauma, mental and physical health issues and financial disadvantage.
Ms Bignold said 10 women had stayed at the service since it opened in February last year and all had worked with the service’s support team to develop a plan for their future.
“Some of them have been exploring job prospects and if not going that far then at least looking at building their capability to get a job,” she said.
“Three of the women have gained paid employment, two have been volunteering, two others have been supported to keep the jobs they have already and six have been participating in informal activities like craft, gardening and barista training.
“We are really trying to build women’s capacity and capability to be able to settle and not cycle through recurring homelessness episodes.”
Ms Bignold said the women living at McAuley House Ballarat had advocated for women’s and children’s needs to government by participating in inquiries into mental health, homelessness and disadvantaged job-seekers.
Ms Bignold was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (OAM) on Australia Day this year, recognising her and the McAuley team’s ‘creative’ work that has ‘pushed the boundaries’ in community and women’s services.
McAuley Community Services for Women is funded to run McAuley House Ballarat for another two years.