‘I don’t feel like an outcast anymore’

During the pandemic, families who were escaping family violence found themselves homeless and forced to stay in unsuitable, often expensive emergency accommodation. The Homes 4 Families program, funded by the Victorian Government and facilitated by McAuley, has been able to support 16 families across Victoria’s Western region, including 40 children, transition into their new homes. From there, the dedicated team worked with them to identify their needs and provide personalised support to empower them to thrive.

When Missy* was young, she always told herself that she would never live in the city. But now as she sits in her apartment in Melbourne’s inner north, in the middle of what Missy calls the “concrete jungle”, she knows that she made the right decision for both herself and her child, Phoenix*.

Missy first moved out of home at 17 due to her complicated relationship with her mother, beginning a decade long period of moving around Australia.

She often had trouble finding housing. “A single mum being on government payments, they sort of turn their nose up at females like me… They didn’t even give us a chance.” Missy felt that she was being dragged backwards and forwards through the system, through multiple housing services and supports.

Being constantly on the move had made things very difficult and caused her to be isolated from loved ones. “The lack of friendships, of proper relationships” she says, “I was constantly repeating the same cycle throughout relationships, friendships, hanging around the wrong crowds.”

This isolation as well as a history of drug addiction had a serious impact on her mental health and self-confidence. “I was depressed, I disliked who I was as a person.”

When COVID hit at the start of 2020, she was chasing work around Queensland on farms where she was often provided accommodation and meals by the owners.

After bouncing between several different temporary accommodation options and a period in rehab, Missy found herself back in Ballarat and was provided a cabin in a caravan park by a local homelessness service. It was here that she was referred to McAuley through the Homes 4 Families program, a program designed to support families who were living in emergency accommodation during the COVID lockdowns.

When she got the call that a house was available, she was in New South Wales. She drove down the next day to inspect her new home and sign the lease.

Missy acknowledges that it wasn’t all smooth sailing at the beginning, but still says that McAuley has been great at adapting to her needs.

“Even if you have ups and downs, my case manager from McAuley was open enough to let me tell her my issues, help work out the situation, get the problem resolved and keep going from there.”

Missy was able to move into her home in Melbourne and was linked up with her current McAuley worker, who she says she hit it off with straight away.

“She reminded me a lot of my one of my mum’s family friends, straight to the point. I was a little bit scared because I knew this person was going to give me a kick up the bum and get myself motivated, but it’s exactly what I needed”

With the support of her caseworker, Missy and her child were able to access a range of different services including dental work and medical support. She has also been supported to get back into the workforce, earning her white card and traffic management certificate.

One of the greatest impacts the program has had on Missy is the support received in relation to her child’s education. Like many children who have escaped family violence, Phoenix had been disengaged from school for almost two years due to a combination of frequently moving and needing to change schools and experiences with bullying.

Homes 4 Families was able to support Phoenix back into school with new school equipment, including a brand-new laptop from McAuley’s Learning Support program. Their case worker was also able to find a high school more suited to their needs. Now back in school and thriving, Phoenix attends a nearby community school that specialises in flexible learning for young people who don’t feel they fit into mainstream high schools. Phoenix has also come out as non-binary since making the move to Melbourne and changed their name.

Seeing the transformation in Phoenix has also improved Missy’s confidence as a parent.

“I’m very excited to see the unique and driven person they have become and where they are headed,” said Missy. “They always felt like they had to be there to make sure I was OK and be my support when really, they just needed to be a child. I think this program has given them that chance and given me that opportunity to move forward.”

Missy looks to her future with a mixture of nervousness and confidence. She is looking forward to revisiting the dreams she had when she was in high school, building a home for herself off-the-grid, living off the land and becoming completely self-sufficient.

Missy is grateful for the support she has received and the future it has given her and Phoenix. She is passionate about paying it forward and being able to use her experiences to help others around her that are in a similar situation.

“I’ll be very sad to be losing our caseworker and I’m worried that I may fall back into old habits. But at the end of the day I am more confident and McAuley has given me the drive to help us move forward. I don’t feel like an outcast anymore and my focus now, is on making sure that my child can be successful and achieve all their goals.”

*Name changed