When you walk into the shared courtyard area of the Good Samaritan Housing community in Brisbane, the first thing that hits your eye is the brightly coloured mural featuring a big tree, the “Tree of Life”.
Adorning the tree are paper leaves, decorated with the names of the women and children who have passed through Good Samaritan Housing since it launched in 2015, and whose lives have been changed because of it.
“It does change lives,” said Roz Waller, Good Samaritan Housing’s Community Coordinator, “because this is not just one housing option among many. It’s actually a program to help these young women and their children move forward. It’s pretty much one of its kind.”
A ministry of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, Good Samaritan Housing provides supported, independent living accommodation for young mothers and their children who are homeless, or are at risk of being homeless.
It offers supported low-rental accommodation in four two-bedroom flats, and helps residents to develop emotional, economic and social stability; commit to a personalised program to enhance their living skills; and build social capital and support networks that will enable them to transition into independent living in the community.
One current resident, Krystal, said that living in Good Samaritan Housing has been the safety net that she and her children needed.
“It’s a safe environment for me and my kids,” she said.
“I’ve been here about three months now and they’ve helped me with baby stuff and also to set future goals.”
Those goals include finishing Year 12 and also obtaining her Responsible Service of Alcohol Certificate to assist in future employment.
With Krystal’s children aged almost four and just three weeks, she said “the skills she has learnt and the support she has received have meant a lot”.
“You do feel supported and you feel more confident in your mothering and budgeting and things like that,” she said.
Roz said a key part of the program’s ethos is to give the residents the skills they need not just to grow and develop their self-worth, recognise their potential, strengths and goals, but also to become tenancy-ready, to move on to more permanent affordable housing.
“We have financial counsellors come in and work one-on-one with our ladies to go through their finances together and to help them move forward,” she said.
“We also connect them with a range of other services to help them, such as day care for their children a couple of days a week.
“This gives me the opportunity then to sit with the mums while the kids are at day care and work on whatever they’ve identified in their goals, as well as highlight some of the possible pathways that they may not be aware of.”
Roz said the “Tree of Life” mural, accompanied by another wall painted with underwater themes, were part of her vision for Good Samaritan Housing.
“When I was being interviewed for this position, I told Sister Bernie [Sontrop] that I was going to bring light and life to this place,” she said. “And this mural sure does that.”
With many of the residents coming from traumatic backgrounds, Roz said she felt an urge to make the place more colourful and conducive to the families’ learning and sense of belonging.
She engaged an artist to paint the tree, with its many branches illustrating the motto of Good Samaritan Housing – “Making a Difference Together”.
“Then I would get the children and the mums to paint and decorate paper leaves. I’d laminate the leaves and we’d stick them to the tree. Everyone’s name gets put on the tree.”
On the other wall of the central courtyard, an underwater theme takes pride of place, with the children also painting the fish and sea creatures that make up the scene.
“It was an amazing project,” she said. “The mothers all took part, as well as the children, and it’s their creation. They have a sense of ownership and belonging and it really engages the children.”
This tied in with the six-week art therapy classes funded by a grant.
Roz has also introduced a program she developed, called the L.O.V.E Program (Living Our Values Everyday), which aims to build the women’s self-awareness and identify their strengths, challenges, hopes and dreams, as well as highlight any possible issues with things like stress or anger management.
“It’s based on group activities, questionnaires and shared talking, and using positive language, but further, the mums learn a lot about themselves and their strengths, which they had never considered before,” Roz said.
“You see the lights come on in their eyes as they discover SELF and it’s just great, it really is”.