For women fleeing violence, this service is vital – why is it begging for funding?

McAuley Community Services for Women chief executive Jocelyn Bignold. Picture by Adam Trafford

Staying at McAuley House Ballarat meant Mary* could finally rest after spending months moving between different motels and crisis accommodation centres across Melbourne.

The house in Ballarat is run by McAuley Community Services, which also runs a facility in Footscray.

The Ballarat facility accommodates up to eight women who are fleeing family violence or at risk of homelessness.

Despite the continuous calls for more housing support across the sector, each year McAuley has to secure funding to keep the doors open.

Moved across Melbourne with no end in sight

Mary left her home because of family violence, and reached out to crisis accommodation for help.

Before coming to Ballarat, she was moving between motels and a women’s refuge across Melbourne.

Often she could only stay in one place for a maximum of two weeks before having to move on to another location, because of funding constraints.

“It is not a good experience,” she said.

“You are lost, you don’t know where you are and you are being pushed from one place to another.”

In the last year 19 women have stayed at McAuley House in Ballarat.

Women can be referred through the hospital system, self-referral or by other organisations

McAuley chief executive Jocelyn Bignold said once the women knew they were able to stay for a longer time period they were able to focus on other parts of their lives.

This included having more time to get into long-term accommodation, improving their health, fitness and creating a sense of belonging in the community.

“Often they are absolutely exhausted when they get here and they can stop and rest and think about what it is that they want to do,” Ms Bignold said.

These services are also available to women living in the community. To date McAuley has helped 28 women not living on the premises.

Making a big move

When McAuley House called Mary and offered her a place to stay in Ballarat, she did not know how to feel at first.

“I was sick and tired of moving around and I was hearing about Ballarat for the first time,” she said.

“I didn’t know how I was going to get there, how it was going to work.”

Mary ended up making the move and she said she was able to spend time with the other women who live there, and share their experiences.

“The moment you get into this place you feel safe,” she said.

Juliana Addison, state treasurer Tim Pallas, Michaela Settle, McAuley chief executive Jocelyn Bignold and Martha Haylett. Picture by Adam Trafford

More housing needed

Mary has been on the waiting list for public housing for four years.

She said she did not want others to go through what she did and thinks there should be more housing available.

“I don’t wish that for anyone, even my worst enemy,” she said.

“They should always make sure there is housing available for people like us.

“Things happen in your house and sometimes you can’t cope and you have to get out, you need a place to have a roof over your head.”

Government spruiks funding – but chief executive said more needs to be done

Each year Ms Bignold has to fight for funding from the state government.

“We have to be looking for this same money, it’s hard and time consuming,” she said, adding the uncertainty meant it was difficult to make future plans.

She said the Footscray location had a different funding model and is able to offer more services, including a nurse on-site.

“We would like to build that type of wrap-around service here, either co-located or with close relationships,” she said.

“The short term funding means it’s really difficult to build those relationships and build that model with confidence.”

Victorian treasurer Tim Pallas visited McAuley House, on May 24, to celebrate the funding given to the organisation in the 2024/25 budget.

He said the government was “very keen” to see the program “continue to provide great support for women escaping domestic violence”.

When asked about the year-on-year funding agreements, Mr Pallas said it was a way for the government to ensure programs are “achieving objectives”.

“It puts a process of accountability and reporting, so that we can refine and improve and hopefully continue to recognise the value,” he said.

Ms Bignold said she would understand the treasurer’s point if funding was for a new program or trials.

“In this instance, I don’t think that’s a valid argument, we’ve been going (in Melbourne) since 2009 and we can see the results,” she said.

“Ultimately, if we don’t have the funding, where would these 19 women go? In cars?”

* Mary’s name has been changed to protect her identity

This story was written by Nieve Walton from The Ballarat Courier. Photography courtesy of Adam Trafford.