Imagine constantly fighting for survival, waking up each morning wondering if you will eat that day and where you will sleep that night?
Imagine not having a place to call home?
For many of us, it’s not something we have ever considered. But if you stop and really think about it, imagine what it would be like to be experiencing homelessness as we lead into the festivities and joy of Christmas.
Our homes are graced with a Christmas tree, decorations are hung, we receive cards from loved ones and shop for special gifts, food and drinks.
Perhaps you experience the excited giggles of children or grandchildren, but mostly your home is filled with family and friends that surround you at this time joyful time of year.
Sadly, this is not the case for more than 70 women who will be either staying at Catherine House or returning to join us for Christmas lunch because they have nowhere else to go.
Catherine House client Heather is looking forward to this Christmas for the “first time in a long time”.
If we rewind the clock back to late 2016, Heather’s life changed in a way she had not ever imagined. For the first time in her life, she had no place to call home; she became homeless.
“I spent my first two nights on the street. The first night I slept at a bus shelter in Port Adelaide. I wasn’t actually living near there at the time but it was a place that was familiar to me, I would visit my grandfather there when I was a little girl. I carried a backpack on my back and one strapped to my front, I had never been so terrified.
My second night was actually one I will never forget. After talking to a local lady about becoming homeless she offered me her car to sleep in for the night. She told me she had once been in my position and understood. She caught a taxi home and I slept in her car. I will never forget the kindness she showed to me on that night”.
Heather knew she had to fight for her survival. Living on the street was dangerous and she knew she needed help. This was the beginning of seven fearful and exhausting months for her.
Heather comes from a family of seven but has been estranged from them for quite some time due to a relationship breakdown. Heather has also struggled with her mental health all her adult life. With no family or real friends, she visited the local homelessness service every day. Every day for three weeks.
“Trying to find accommodation and support became like a routine for me. It gave me something to focus on. I stayed at a backpackers when I could, and each day just became the same”.
Get up, have breakfast, shower, pack up, head to the service to try and find out where I could sleep that night, have lunch at a local café (that would provide me with a free meal when they could), walk around the streets then hopefully go to a place that had a bed available that night”
I would walk around the streets each day and say to myself, oh my god, I am that person. I wanted to give up”.
Heather thought her persistency had paid off when she was able to move into a boarding house. The boarding house had 6 others, 5 of whom were men. Heather recalls multiple times in which she needed to lock herself in her bedroom for her own safety. Her anxiety and mental health suffered dramatically throughout this time.
It was also during this time that her calls to local services continued and she was told about the accommodation and support services of Catherine House.
“I remember thinking, I need to get to this place, this is where I need to go”. I liked that it was only women and it sounded like what I needed. I made constant calls to Catherine House to try and get a place, until one day I got the call.
I was sitting at the Findon Shopping Centre when the Catherine House Intake Worker Di, called to say there was a place for me. I was so happy; I knew this was what I needed to get back on my feet”.
After seven months of sleeping in a bus shelter, a car, backpackers and motel accommodation, Heather finally had Catherine House.
Heather has always had a passion for food and cooking and remembers her first night at Catherine House vividly.
“I felt relieved that I was finally there, I felt safe and I couldn’t believe I was getting Korean Pork Belly stir-fry for dinner- what a dream”.
We know for many women staying at Catherine House the need for “normality” of having their own room and a home cooked meal is so very important to them. For Heather it was the routine of the Emergency Program that provided her with what she needed.
After settling in to Catherine House Heather started to use the services on offer to her.
“I met with the Centrelink officer, saw the doctor and the psychologist, but the thing I liked the most was the activities at the Women’s Centre. I did art, yoga and beading. I never thought I would be one for beading but it helped to settle my mind. I wanted to do everything that was on offer to me”.
Together Heather worked with her case worker and after just over 4 weeks at Catherine House she was allocated a place at a boarding house.
This time, it was a house that suited her needs and offered her ongoing housing stability.
Her time at Catherine House allowed her to begin her recovery from homelessness and the impact it had on her mental and physical wellbeing.
Heather is now an outreach client of Catherine House and still receives regular support from her case worker Phuong.
“Phuong has helped me with my confidence and social anxiety, I feel more confident now than I have in a very long time”.
Heather has an incredibly bright future ahead of her. She has just started a Certificate III in Business Administration and is studying full time.
“My dream is to work with women in the food industry, I would love to be a nutritionist or be involved in meal planning with community kitchens”.
Heather recalls coming to Catherine House last year for Christmas for the first time.
“For many years, I just spent Christmas on my own and because I loved to cook I would try and make something really special for myself, but last year I was just exhausted. When I was asked to come to Catherine House for Christmas lunch I felt relieved I didn’t have to be on my own, I didn’t really talk much to the other women because of my anxiety, but I did feel safe there”.
This year Heather will return to Catherine House for Christmas and she feels she will have more confidence to interact with the other women who she will share her day with.
All clients at Catherine House will have a traditional Christmas Lunch and Dinner and will each be given a gift as an added gesture to let them know they are cared for.
“My gift from Catherine House last Christmas was the only one I had received in quite some time and the lunch I shared was the first Christmas Lunch where I hadn’t been on my own for as long as I can remember”.
You can ensure women staying at Catherine House will know they have a place at our Christmas table where they will feel safe, can share a meal with women sharing similar experiences and feel the support of their “Catherine House family” around them.
Your gift will help to support 70 (or more) women just like Heather. This is an incredible gift you can give to make a difference to their lives.
Together, we can show these women the regard, care and compassion they deserve to feel.
Your support will also mean that every woman that comes to Catherine House has the chance to feel hopeful about ending her homelessness and starting on a pathway to rebuild their loves, just like Heather.