For more than 30 years, a small and dedicated team in Western Sydney has been empowering young mums-to-be and mothers with children to break the cycle of domestic violence and homelessness.
Houses to Homes, a service of CatholicCare Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, has been providing transitional housing and emotional and practical support to young women who have nowhere else to turn.
“In most cases, the young women have come from very difficult situations,” Houses to Homes Manager Louise Masters explained. “Sometimes, they might decide not to tell anyone where they are.
“Very often, they have no family or friends to stay with, so finding them safe, affordable housing is our number one priority, along with making sure they feel safe and have all the basic necessities and skills to care for their baby.”
Louise, a Registered Nurse and midwife, and a team of four full-time staff and two casuals, provide care to more than 100 homeless women between the ages of 16 and 25, and their children, each year. Louise joyfully shares that she has ‘grandmothered’ hundreds of children in her time at Houses to Homes.
“Before COVID, we’d sit down and have a cuppa [with the women].
“We talk with them and ask about the risks in their lives, to help manage them safely, because very often they have unsafe people around them.”
Louise said that when some girls first arrive at Houses to Homes, they are a bit cautious and are wary of motherhood, having come from difficult backgrounds. But over time, like the layers of an onion, the team is able to unpeel the layers, and learn how they got into their situation and help them learn to get out of it.
“One example comes to mind of a girl who had a baby recently. I was on the phone to her, helping to allay her anxiety as I couldn’t go in and visit [due to COVID]. She told me how she wasn’t coping, how she hadn’t slept for five days whilst she was at hospital and she was exhausted. But then she paused for a minute and said, ‘Oh, you’re so beautiful’ and I could tell she was looking at her baby.
“She told me, ‘I wish I had a partner that I was in a good relationship with so that they could help me look after the baby. I want my child to have a better life than I did.’
“Another girl came and visited us [years later] when her child was eight. She stood in the doorway and said, ‘I don’t know how you put up with me’ and told us how ‘she got it now and understood what it was all about and understood what was going on.’
“I think it’s not judging and persisting and believing that everybody should be allowed to have a try, and our mothers have been able to do it well.”
Louise praised the dedication of her incredible staff, especially during COVID.
“It’s a special group of people,” she said.
“The women we have helping are counselling, talking, working with the girls morning and night.
“One of our team was here the other night from midnight to 4am helping one of our girls to feed the baby, helping her to feel calm and settle, to help her normalise everything and show her what a ‘normal’ place looks like.
“Our team know how to keep that really measured, calm presence so that the girls in our care can be in a place where they can actually learn something.
“We know about trauma and the tiredness that comes from being pregnant and having a baby and so we stick in there and keep supporting and don’t give up easily.
“We know that if the girls can learn to trust us, they’ll know that we are there to help them and won’t give up on them.
“Most of the support they have had from family always has strings attached. With us, that’s not the case.
“It’s a privilege to be there to see these girls evolve into quite capable mums.
“We want to help them in every way possible.”
The number of young women turning to Houses to Homes for help is increasing with the pandemic, putting an even greater strain on staff and resources.
With your support of Parramatta Catholic Foundation’s Bishop’s Christmas Appeal, pregnant and at-risk young mothers can bring their baby into the world in a safe, nurturing and emotionally secure environment, setting them up for the very best start to their family life.
Please donate today to the Bishop’s Christmas Appeal via yourcatholicfoundation.org.au/ bishops-christmas-outlook-appeal-21
No-one should be alone at Christmas.