Young Mercy Links Forum on Homelessness
Young Mercy Links is an initiative of the Melbourne Mercy Congregation for young adults committed to mercy and justice
Theme: Homelessness – Out of Sight ,Out of Mind
The often hidden issue of homelessness was highlighted by a team of Young Mercy Links members at our third forum for this year. This was held on Sunday evening 28th of August at Australian Catholic University, Melbourne Campus. The theme for this forum was ‘Homelessness – Out of Sight, Out of Mind’. The team who presented the night were : Trang, Truc, Sanika, Rachel, Adria and Nathan (who assisted with the AV).
The evening was introduced with two video clips. The first clip showed the experiences of two young men who slept out on the streets of New York during the coldest week of winter in order to try to capture a glimpse of the lives of those who are homeless.
The second clip was an interview of a mother and her teenage daughter, during the ‘Wishin Sleepout’. The ‘Wishin Sleepout’ is held each year to highlight the struggle of the many women and children who are unable to access safe, secure housing in Melbourne. The mother and her three children were forced to leave their home due to long-term domestic violence. They spent time alternating between sleeping on the floors of relatives and friends’ houses, and at times sleeping in their car. The turmoil caused to the young teenager, as she tried to come to terms with the lack of privacy and the inability to have an opportunity to complete homework tasks while anticipating VCE the following year, was particularly poignant.
Three Young Mercy Links’ members then shared with us their experiences of being personally touched by the lives of the homeless. Trang spoke of her volunteering experience each week helping to serve meals to women and men at St. Mary’s House of Welcome in Fitzroy, many of whom are homeless or who live in boarding houses. Adria shared her volunteering experience of giving pampering sessions (with a group of Young Mercy Links members) to the women at Regina Coeli Community in North Melbourne each month. Regina Coeli Community is part of McAuley Community Services for Women, a ministry of the Sisters of Mercy. Rachel shared with us her reflections on sleeping overnight in a car at the recent ‘Wishin Sleepout’.
We were presented with some basic facts about homelessness in Australia.
- Each day nearly 1 in every 200 Australians is homeless, without safe, secure or affordable housing.
- Last year, 105 000 Australians experienced homelessness.
- One in every 154 Australians sought help from a homeless assistance service and one in every 39 children aged under 4 slept in a homeless service.
- 23% of Australia’s homeless are children – almost one in four homeless people is under 18.
- Of every 42 Australian children under four, one has experienced homelessness.
- Every day, half the people who request immediate accommodation from the
homeless service system are turned away.
- Two in every 3 children who need support are also turned away, as are almost 80% percent of families.
Our panel of four women brought a wide range of experience to the theme of homelessness. On the panel was Trish O’Donohue from ‘Wishin’ ( Women’s Information, Support and Housing in the North), Sr. Michelle Reid SGS from the Good Samaritan Inn (crisis accommodation for women and children), and two women, Jo and Maxine, who belong to the Exodus Community in West Heidelberg. The panel were interviewed by Sr Sally Bradley RSM.
- Trish O’Donohue, CEO at WISHIN, focused on the strength and vulnerability of the women and children who have to leave their homes, and find themselves unable to access affordable accommodation. Trish spoke with great passion about the vicious cycle that often occurs around violence and poverty, and the need to support these families so that this does not continue.
- Michelle Reid SGS, the manager of ‘Good Samaritan Inn’, described the way in which they are able to provide a place of support and peace for families escaping domestic violence. They focus on the safety and the dignity of each individual, giving them the respite space they need at the Inn. The staff at Good Samaritan Inn, along with a large group of volunteers, provide twenty four hour support five days a week.
- The two women from the Exodus Community, courageously shared their stories of past abuse and homelessness. Maxine spoke of finding herself living on the streets between the age of ten and fourteen years of age, after she fled an abusive situation as a Ward of the State. She also experienced another episode of homelessness later in her life after her first son was born. Maxine has turned her life around caring for herself and her three sons, and volunteering in many areas of community work in West Heidelberg. Jo told her story of escaping an abusive, controlling relationship after many years. She spoke of the initial fear she experienced when she was sent to a refuge with her two children without knowing where she was going and able to speak only a little English. She then described a sense of safety and relief. She has since gone back to study and now has two degrees and a successful career in the building industry.
- At the end of the evening, Truc expressed our thanks to those who prepared the evening and those who shared their powerful stories of resilience and hope. Over supper together the conversation continued with the issue of homelessness now more within our sight and within our hearts and minds.
Val Mooney (Project Co-ordinator of YML), Margaret Moore RSM and Sally Bradley RSM