Client Stories

Tania's Story

Tania

I never would have imagined that within two years of walking through the doors of Catherine House, I would have fulfilled many dreams that I thought were beyond my reach. They were called dreams for a reason – a figment of my imagination, something I could only hope for, but never possible. It wasn’t until I came to a place where there were other women facing their troubles, many much more challenging that I could ever fathom, that I realised I wasn’t alone. We were together in our pain and struggles, and it was the women who were there to support us, and pick us up from the ground that were the true inspiration.
I will be forever grateful for the way I was treated in Catherine House – cleaners, cooks, administration staff and volunteers all loved me to life.

I needed that more than a bed and a meal on the table. Nothing else could combat the terror and hatred that was ripping me apart inside.  Thank God for Catherine House.

Until now, I was the walking dead. I wasn’t here, I was too engulfed by my fear, self-loathing and racing thoughts and insidious beliefs. I was never judged at Catherine House, I was treated with respect, discipline, love, understanding and compassion.

Susan's Story
Client Susan

For most of her life Susan dealt with an abusive husband from a marriage that lasted 37-years. From physical to emotional abuse, Susan endured endless years of suffering.

“People always ask why don’t you leave, but it really isn’t that easy. The only reason I stayed was for my children and grandchildren”.

In 2017, together with the support of her counsellor and the local Police Susan made the decision to escape. After 37 years of abuse, Susan had to leave her home and their family business. This meant that she had no choice but to give up her home. She became homeless.

After arriving in Adelaide from regional South Australia, Susan was referred to the Western Adelaide Domestic Violence Services. During this time she stayed in various motels before she was referred to Catherine House.

When Susan first arrived at Catherine House in the Emergency Program she had no idea what to expect.

“I thought a homeless shelter was just one big room with lots of beds in it. I couldn’t believe that there was such a homely environment. You have your own bedroom and community areas where you can come together with other women. I don’t really know what I expected but when I came to Catherine House I was amazed.”

Upon her arrival Susan had a “million things” going through her head. All she wanted to do was hide away from the world, even the staff and other women.

“When I arrived, I just wanted to spend time in my room, and the staff were very respectful of that. They were absolutely fantastic. I felt safe and was never pressured to leave, instead I was able to take my time, to rest and to think where to from here.”

After only a few days into her stay, Susan discovered just how important the services Catherine House provided were and she no longer felt scared about the environment she now called home. From being provided with three meals a day, to in-house services including a personal case worker, access to financial support and a general practitioner, Susan was starting to feel like she was on her road to recovery.

“The support services are incredible. There is no need to leave Catherine House which made me feel really protected and cared for.”

Karen, Susan’s case worker, is just one of the staff members who has had a major impact on Susan’s life and her stay at Catherine House.

“Karen helped me get an Intervention Order against my husband. She even came with me to the police station. She is beyond amazing and I know she is always there and just a call away whenever I need her. Without Catherine House, I might have gone back to my abusive husband, and there is a chance that if I did go back to him that I would have ended up killed”.

“For most of my life, I would walk with my head down when walking through the streets, but since being at Catherine House I’ve learnt how to become more confident. I’ve also realised my worth, and to know that I deserve more than the abuse I suffered. When I realised it, it only made me more determined to not go back, and to know I don’t have to be treated like that by anyone.”

Susan completed the ‘My Time, My Life, My Future’ program at the Catherine House Women’s Centre. This program offers women time to reconnect with themselves, increase personal and career awareness and help rebuild confidence.

After successfully completing the course, Susan decided to enrol in TAFE to complete a Certificate III in Community Services. Susan is passionate about being able to give back and to help other women dealing with similar situations. Susan is working towards becoming a support worker in the domestic violence sector.

“Sharon the education and employment officer is an incredible woman. It was because of her teaching, support and skills I gained self-esteem which has helped me realise that I can be proud of myself. I know that I’m not stupid and useless like I was told for so many years. I now know I can do what I want to do with my life and I am capable.”

Susan is currently completing her Certificate IV in Community Services and has only two subjects remaining.

“I felt like a bird trapped in a cage once upon a time, but then I flew from the cage and found a nest at Catherine House. While my time in the nest is coming to an end and I’m a little scared and nervous, I’ve become a bird who will be able to find a new nest again soon.”

Sara's Story

Sara

COMING TO LIFE THROUGH ART.

Sara moved into our permanent accommodation December 2014. Years of un-wellness and social isolation resulted in losing the habit and desire to talk or look after herself. Moving into a communal setting with 11 other women was daunting despite the warmth, safety, care of staff and residents.

It took over a year for Sara to exhibit signs she was feeling settled and comfortable. Then one day she surprised all when she responded to the ongoing encouragement to do some of her colouring with the Art group in the Women’s Centre. This was the first step back to her love of art, which she explained she enjoyed since she was 16.

She was delighted when the art teacher suggested she exhibit some of her freelance drawings in the 2016 CHART Exhibition and proposed a way to showcase her individual favourite pieces. These begin as pencil drawings of images from children’s colouring books- which are then roughly coloured in.

When we sat down with Sara recently she explained she now has hundreds of pages of these colourings and was surprised she enjoys producing these as much as she does. Sara explained that while she usually sits quietly in the class, she really enjoys the company of the other women and that makes her feel good. Art class has helped her expand her skills trying paint and pastels, though not keen on these, as they are too messy for her.

As for the future, when visitors see her portfolio of work they all say “oh wow this would make amazing children’s wrapping paper!” Sara continues with this art as she is hoping to turn this idea into a reality as she said “If I could get some money out of it- it would give me some incentive, beyond a pleasant way to pass the time “.

Lolita's Story
Picture of Lolita

In Lolita’s words: ” I really enjoyed speaking up, particularly at the moment as I am going through a down period. What it showed me is – that despite how I am feeling today, I was able to get through it and do the interview. I could not have done that if I was not here. Just to get dressed up for the occasion, I have not done that since early December, when we had the End of Year Celebration.

I feel empowered by having a voice and love it when people look deeper at me, into the skills and attributes

Advocacy is part of what this is about- the interview and this work fulfils me more than any other work I have done. To hear from Deb, a worker at Catherine House for over 25 years was fascinating. To learn how the programs have grown and developed, how hard things were in the beginning, is really inspirational. What stood out is that staff really believe in the philosophy, and are here because they want to be, not just for the money, it gave me a different insight. When I am down I think about the cards and certificates I have received and the kind words and encouragement, that’s what gets me through”.

Robyn's Story

RobynIt’s February 2020 and a significant day for Catherine House client Robyn. Today Robyn commenced her Certificate II and III in Women’s Advocacy at TAFE SA. She is absolutely beaming with happiness and it’s easy to see how proud she is of herself. Robyn is 40 years old.

However, two years earlier life was very different for Robyn. At 38 years of age, she found herself homeless. After a relationship breakdown and the loss of her community housing tenancy, life took a very unexpected turn. Within two days she went from having a place she was able to call home to contacting friends to see if she could stay on their couches and googling “homeless” on the internet.

Robyn recalls searching the internet and finding out about Catherine House. “I called and spoke to the intake worker and told her about my situation. She explained that there would be a wait but she would contact me as soon as a place became available”. Robyn was in luck, as within a few days she received a call from the intake worker, Di, to say she could come to Catherine House. “I was scared, but I felt happy and relieved”, Robyn recalls.

Sadly, Robyn was not unfamiliar with how communal accommodation works. At the age of 12, Robyn was appointed a ward of the state and at 16 her mother unexpectedly died. Robyn spent much of her childhood in and out of community housing. Her childhood was far from “normal”, with very little structure, no family to rely on and the ups and down of trying to understand and navigate the public health system and many services along the way.

The trauma and instability Robyn experienced as a child and teenager left her suffering from depression and she struggled daily with her mental health. Throughout her adult life, maintaining a job was difficult and relationships were always a challenge. She also tried to study a few times but was never able to see it through; it was too much for her. However, one of the things Robyn was able to sustain was her volunteer work at the Grenville Community HUB. Despite having people around her she still found it difficult to not only ask for help but to trust people. “From the outside, people always thought I was happy but really, I was hiding a lot on the inside”.

Robyn entered the Catherine House Emergency Accommodation (EP) program and resided there for just over two months.

“When I first came to EP I couldn’t believe how much support was on offer to me, I hadn’t felt that supported in a very long time. My case worker, Mel, spent so much time with me finding out about what I needed, what I wanted, it’s hard for me to explain just how much that meant to me”. Robyn was able to utilise many of the support services on offer to her – housing support, psychologist, legal assistance as well as medical support through Health Partners. Taking care of her health was never a priority as it was something she simply could not afford. For the first time in years she was able to visit the dentist (consequently having 9 teeth removed) and received a new pair of glasses – hers were being held together by sticky tape!

With Robyn’s history of mental health and in need of further support, she was able to transfer to the Catherine House Recovery Program. It was during the first few months of this program that Robyn really noticed a change in herself. “My confidence grew and I started saying YES to things I previously never would have. I decided to do the “Live your best Life” and the “My Time” courses with Sharon in the Catherine House Women’s Centre. “I loved it. They were the first courses I had really ever completed in their entirety”. I attended one of the Catherine House celebrations and saw the music group perform, I thought “I can do that”. She joined the group and performed for the first time in December. “When I am performing and singing I am happy”.

Robyn also accepted what she refers to as her “ultimate” challenge when asked to speak about her experience of homelessness at the National Homelessness conference back in August. With support from her case worker Deb, and education and employment tutor Sharon, Robyn’s confidence continues to grow and she now regularly engages in speaking opportunities at schools on behalf of Catherine House.

Being a part of the Recovery Program has also taught Robyn many basic life skills, such as cooking, cleaning, budgeting and how to maintain a tenancy. Robyn’s childhood prevented her from learning these. ‘I don’t have any family, Catherine House has shown me what it is like to feel like I have a family for the first time in my life. I honestly didn’t know people could care that much and I don’t know where I would be without Catherine House.”

Robyn’s future is looking incredibly bright. With the help of her case worker, she is going to start applying for permanent housing and has returned to her part-time volunteer work and has commenced studying at TAFE.

Robyn has also completed one of her life long dreams – to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge. She used the budgeting skills she learnt at Catherine House and was able to save for her trip to celebrate not only her 40th birthday but everything she has achieved in the past few years!

Tess' Story

Two years and seven months ago, I entered the Catherine House Emergency Program. I, like many women who reach homelessness, was totally dysfunctional. I had terrible difficulties communicating as I could hardly string a sentence together. I had two suitcases which contained all that was left of my worldly goods and I was completely, utterly broken.

My previous experiences left me feeling no joy or enthusiasm for anything. I was in a constant state of confusion and terror. I couldn’t stand any sort of physical touch and I could not make decisions. It is extremely difficult to find somewhere to live when you can’t cope or deal with even the most basic of life’s issues.

After spending 3 months in the Catherine House Emergency Program, I entered the Recovery Program which is designed to help homeless women who are experiencing mental illness. And a Recovery Program is exactly what it is. It’s not just a shelter; it is a safe and stable environment in which to recover with support to help you do so.

When you enter the Recovery Program you are assigned a case worker to help you sort out your life. They help you to piece your life back together, assisting with phone calls, going to appointments and decision making. The case workers and the rest of the staff not only advocate for you, but also nurture and celebrate every little achievement. They are persistent in a very kind and gentle way. So, before you know it you have your affairs sorted and a support network which, in turn, gives you the space to breathe and focus on your issues.
There is a Women’s Centre attached to Catherine House and they have a variety of fantastic short life skill courses to help you get back on track and build confidence. I attended two such courses there, ‘My Time’ and ‘Live your Best Life’. Both courses helped me to build confidence and realise what skills I already had to build on. In short, it all adds up to the perfect environment to heal. And heal I did, very slowly but surely.

One of the key issues which Catherine House helps women with is that of obtaining secure, appropriate, permanent housing. In February of 2019 I moved out of Catherine House and into my own home. Although I was completely ready for this transition, I still felt overwhelmed and afraid, but in true Catherine House form, my case worker and other staff members made the process completely manageable. As I have mentioned I had lost all of my worldly goods so I was starting from scratch, which was an extremely daunting task indeed. They helped me source and obtain everything I needed, one step at a time. I received donations in the form of white goods, furniture, soft furnishings and essential household items and I now find myself living in my own secure place with all I need.

My experience has profoundly changed the way I look at humanity and what my priorities are. So inspired am I by all the amazing women I have encountered through Catherine House, the staff, the volunteers and, in particular, the Catherine House clients, that I have gone back to postgraduate studies at Flinders University. I am currently undertaking a Masters of Screen and Media Production (learning how to make films) expanding on my previous professional career as a photographer, something I never thought would be possible again. As my confidence grew I wanted to explore ways in which I could further develop my abilities. This course appealed to me as I had already decided that I would like to spend the next part of my life sharing women’s stories and raising awareness for those in need. One thing missing, however, was a home computer to complete my assignments. Again Catherine House came to my aid and supplied me with a donated laptop which has been invaluable.

Having successfully completed my first academic year of study, I feel well on the way to achieving my goal of creating films and will continue to do so this year. So here I am at the age of fifty, with a bright new future in lovely secure home which is a direct result of Catherine House giving me a safe environment, time to do everything thoroughly, generous support and the advocacy to speak for me when I was unable.

Template Story

Tania

I never would have imagined that within two years of walking through the doors of Catherine House, I would have fulfilled many dreams that I thought were beyond my reach. They were called dreams for a reason – a figment of my imagination, something I could only hope for, but never possible. It wasn’t until I came to a place where there were other women facing their troubles, many much more challenging that I could ever fathom, that I realised I wasn’t alone. We were together in our pain and struggles, and it was the women who were there to support us, and pick us up from the ground that were the true inspiration.
I will be forever grateful for the way I was treated in Catherine House – cleaners, cooks, administration staff and volunteers all loved me to life.

I needed that more than a bed and a meal on the table. Nothing else could combat the terror and hatred that was ripping me apart inside.

Thank God for Catherine House.

Until now, I was the walking dead. I wasn’t here, I was too engulfed by my fear, self-loathing and racing thoughts and insidious beliefs. I was never judged at Catherine House, I was treated with respect, discipline, love, understanding and compassion.

Previous Newsletter Editions

Winter 2020 Newsletter