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7 September 2021

Strong men help – supporting the ‘hidden homeless’

Women experiencing homelessness might not be front of mind for many teenage boys. But…

Women experiencing homelessness might not be front of mind for many teenage boys.

But a group of Blackfriars Year 12 students now has a much better understanding of the extent of the problem in South Australia – and what they can do to help.

Alexandra Growden, the fundraising and marketing coordinator at Catherine House, recently visited Dina Hasaneen’s Year 12 Integrated Learning – Religion class to talk about the growing number of women facing homelessness.

Catherine House was founded in 1988, by the Sisters of Mercy, to address an unmet need for women experiencing homelessness in Adelaide. It started with just 12 beds.

“The Sisters of Mercy very quickly realised that people experiencing homelessness need more than a couple of nights and a warm bed and a shower to end their homelessness,” Ms Growden told the Year 12 class.

“You can’t just give someone a place to sleep for a couple of nights and then say, ‘Right, you’ve got to hop out and be on your own and work yourself out’. They need services and support behind them.”

Today, Catherine House accommodates 59 women every night of the year. Concerningly, there is a three-month waiting list for support.

“The two biggest things that I want you take away from this is that we are not a shelter,” Ms Growden said.

“We are a service where clients come in and live at Catherine House for months at a time and are assigned case workers to work through their issues that brought them to homelessness in the first place … so they can achieve a meaningful life in the future.

“And we are not a DV service. While many of our clients have experienced family and domestic violence in their life, we are not actually a domestic violence service. We are much more than that.”

The Year 12 class heard that 44% of all people experiencing homelessness across Australia were women – the “hidden homeless”.

“They (homeless women) don’t want to be seen,” Ms Growden told the class.

“It’s scary enough for women who do have a home to be walking the streets at night.

“So for a woman who is experiencing homelessness, who is under super-hyper vigilance, extremely scared for their safety, extremely vulnerable, it’s even scarier for them. So, they hide, they are not seen at all.”

She said homelessness could affect women of all ages.

“We have had women in their 70s and 80s come in,” she said.

“One most recently, she was about 83. She was married to her husband for 50 years. Before he passed away, he was actually abusing her for the entire marriage. And when he passed away, their son started to abuse her as well.

“(Her husband’s abuse) was physical, but when her son started to abuse her, it was emotional, it was financial. She had no control over any of her finances. That’s why she came to Catherine House. She basically lived her entire life being abused by her family.”

Prefects Mitchell Gregory and Lewis Saint thank Alexandra Growden, from Catherine House.

Ms Hasaneen said her Year 12 class had been discussing family violence and the associated media coverage.

“As a class, we agreed that more education on the issue, as well as healthier relationships, were the keys to addressing this,” Ms Hasaneen said.

“Through the research, it became obvious that family violence was one of the biggest causes of homelessness.

“This class will now lead the way on educating the wider school community on the issue, including current support mechanisms.

“We have adopted the motto ‘Strong men help’, as we came to the conclusion that as young men, raised in a Catholic Dominican tradition, we need to be more proactive and give a voice to the voiceless.”

The class plans to run a fundraiser in Term 4, with proceeds going to Catherine House.