What do homeless women need?
At McAuley Community Services for Women we regularly receive phone calls offering clothing, children’s bikes, televisions and furniture … but recently we were stunned — and of course delighted — when we were contacted with the offer of a house.
Kerry James says the decision to bequeath her house for the use of women in need of shelter came to her, quite suddenly, in the middle of the night. It was during a period when she herself had gone through a rough few years with illness, and caring for her husband before he passed away.
‘I decided it in the flash of a second. I realised how lucky I was to have a roof over my head, now that I’m nearing the end of my life’ Kerry says.
She wanted her house to become a haven for women who were facing homelessness. She had been struck by stories in the media about a growing crisis in older women, who were quietly and invisibly drifting into homelessness.
Kerry knows about the issue of family violence, having worked for many years as an anthropologist in Tonga. While she lived there she helped set up a safe house for women escaping family violence.
This knowledge, about the connection between family violence and homelessness, was in the forefront of her mind when she began looking out for an organisation which would match her vision.
‘There are many brave souls, sometimes professional women, who are getting to their 50s, and are on the verge of living on the streets,’ Kerry says.
Her vision for how her house would be used was to avoid that fate and to ‘rebuild their self-worth and self-respect. I want it to be a place of healing, a peaceful place for women to begin a new life. It will be a place for women with gumption to get themselves back together.’
As soon as she learnt what McAuley was all about, she knew we would be an excellent fit for what she hoped her house would be able to achieve. ‘I wasn’t going to do it unless it was done right, and everything I read about McAuley convinced me that this was the right match. It will be a transitional place, for women to find their feet again, and get support to be back in the workplace.’
The house is, as Kerry describes it ‘a gorgeous and embracing place. It has a glow, and I think of it as very much a woman’s kind of house.’
As to why Kerry is making this exceptional act of generosity, she hopes more will adopt her approach. ‘People are now often passing their houses onto adult children who don’t really need them.
‘If you want to help people who are homeless…give them a house!’
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