A new collaboration between the Good Samaritan Inn, a local parish and the Catholic Archdiocese of Melbourne will result in an expansion of residential services for women and their children. This will be a crucial bridge between crisis care and longer-term support to help rebuild their lives, writes Debra Vermeer.
The Inn has been delivering a specialist crisis refuge response to women and children survivors of family violence and/or homelessness since 1996.
The Inn provides short-term case work support to about 250 women, children and young people every year. Guests stay at the Inn for an average of 28 days, with the provision of a bed, meals, crisis support, counselling, group therapy, and referral to other specialist services as required.
Crucially, during the early stages of a woman’s referral to the Inn, the availability of skilled and qualified staff members 24/7 enables emotional support in those critical moments when she may feel compelled to return to her violent partner.
Under the new proposal, a former convent within the City of Banyule will accommodate women and children who are moving out of crisis accommodation but are assessed as requiring further transitional housing and support.
The Inn’s Executive Director, Felicity Rorke, said it was something they had been wanting to provide for some time. “It’s an extension of the work we do,” she said.
“Until recently, we have provided a very short-term crisis accommodation model and one of the issues we find is locating housing for women to move into from there, especially supported transitional housing in an environment that focuses on healing from the trauma of violence and abuse as well as building skills and creating pathways into training and employment.
“With the new accommodation, our guests will have a 12-month stay and be engaged in the EMPath program to help them build a bridge to self-sufficiency.”
The Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath) program is an evidence-based US model that looks at poverty alleviation differently. EMPath is a holistic coaching model that recognises the effect of prolonged trauma on executive functioning skills such as the ability to maintain focus, establish priorities, follow multi-step instructions, and mentally hold information. A lack of such skills can hinder a person’s ability to become self-sufficient.
“The new accommodation will allow us to remain engaged with these women after their initial crisis period,” Felicity said. “It gives us the ability to pursue the relationship and build on pillars of self-sufficiency as well as any other supports they may require.”
After a lengthy process, planning permission has now been granted for this new development. While it is not yet definite, there is a strong indication that the Victorian Government will fund the remaining shortfall, and the work can begin to turn the convent into 10 self-contained one, two and three-bedroom apartments, including two with full disability access. At any one time, up to 30 women and children can be accommodated.
While at the old convent, the women and children would receive ongoing risk assessment and safety planning, and case planning, including referrals and advocacy to other specialist services as required.
For women referred to the Banyule Project with no permanent residency in Australia, their case plan would identify referral to an immigration specialist to help with their visa applications.
Through their specialist family violence case manager, guests would also be linked with other specialist, local services to ensure the best outcomes for their ongoing housing, health and emotional and psychological wellbeing, as well as receive employment readiness sessions and employment mentoring.
Felicity said the project had been a “really beautiful” collaboration between the Good Samaritan Inn and the local parish community, who had been seeking a good use for the convent. “The parish has just been so wonderful,” she said.
Good Samaritan Sister Marella Rebgetz, who is Chair of Members of the Good Samaritan Inn, said the new developments reflected both the Inn’s origins and its ongoing ministry.
“The first ministries our Sisters undertook were a partnership with others, and the Inn started as a collaboration between a parish and our Sisters, so it’s lovely that we are once again collaborating in partnership with a local parish on this new project,” Marella said.
She expressed her gratitude to the Good Samaritan Inn Board and staff for their commitment and dedication to bringing the dream to life.
Marella said the ministry to women and children in need was at the heart of what the Sisters of the Good Samaritan were established to do when the Congregation was founded by Archbishop John Bede Polding OSB in the fledgling Sydney colony.
“It’s in keeping with our first work, which was the running of the House of the Good Shepherd (a house for destitute women),” she said.
“It’s sad that more than 160 years later, this type of ministry is still required, but it’s a ministry that is very much at the centre of who we are.”
Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist working in both Catholic and mainstream media.