May 2019

Substance over style ‘Inn’ supporting mothers

Mother and Child

Good Sam’s Inn and Housing ministries provide significant support to mothers facing difficult times every day, not just on Mother’s Day, writes Debra Vermeer.

While many mothers across Australia were treated to breakfast in bed and gifts of fluffy slippers on Mothers’ Day, staff at two Good Samaritan ministries were ensuring that some other mums had an even more meaningful gift – a safe and secure roof over their head for them and their children.

The Good Samaritan Inn in Melbourne, which supports women and children who have experienced family violence, and Good Samaritan Housing in Brisbane, which provides supported, independent living accommodation for young mothers and their children who are homeless or at risk of being homeless, are both ministries which aim to support women at difficult times in their lives.

Felicity Rorke, Executive Director of the Good Samaritan Inn, says they didn’t let Mother’s Day go unnoticed at the Inn.

“We always make a big deal of it,” she says. “We try to make our guests feel nurtured and special all the time, but on big occasions such as Mother’s Day, we have the capacity to make things even more special for them.”

Felicity says the Inn often has donated gifts left over from Christmas, which they keep for such occasions.

One of the donated pamper packs the Good Samaritan Inn gives to the mums on mother’s day.

“Then we take every child who’s staying with us into the donations area to pick a present for their mother,” she says.

“We also have art therapists who come in every week to provide art therapy for the kids and any of the mums who are interested and so, around Mother’s Day, we ask them to help the kids make gifts and cards for their mums.

“Then, on the day itself, the staff help the children make breakfast for the mums and we have a communal breakfast of pancakes and other things.”

There are also pamper packs of donated goods on hand to give as gifts to the mums who are staying at the Inn.

“And working with the local neighbourhood houses has put us in connection with Bridge Church in Richmond, whose members have been delivering meals and beautiful cakes to us once a week and so we had some delicious red velvet cakes and Portuguese tarts to share as well.”

Felicity says that a new four-year funding arrangement from the Victorian Government has allowed the Good Samaritan Inn not only to operate 24/7, as an emergency accommodation referral centre for women and children escaping violence, but also to inject a range of new support programs into daily life at the Inn.

“It depends a bit on who we’ve got staying here and what their individual needs are, but we’ve been able to bring in the ongoing art therapy, with a particular focus on the children, as well as a story time session for kids every Friday,” Felicity says.

“Sr Helen [Mills], who was one of the initial people who started the Inn, is returning to help out with that.”

Workshops hosted by comedian Monica Dullard on how to run an engaging story time, are being offered to staff and volunteers, and a recruitment drive is underway for more volunteers to host the story time sessions or run sessions focusing on effective parenting.

“We are planning yoga and relaxation sessions for the women and we’re also setting up a more youth and teenage-friendly space for the older kids who stay here.”

Felicity says while the four-year funding agreement was welcome, the Good Samaritan Inn is now in negotiations with Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services to increase the operating budget so that it completely covers the running costs of the Inn.

“We require extra direct service staff to enable us to provide more effective advocacy for the women and families,” she says.

A new overnight staff position has allowed the Inn to accept women into its care during the night if necessary, rather than the Department having to place them in a motel and better enables staff to support the guests with more complex issues through the night.

The Good Samaritan Inn has also recently completed a ‘Co-Design’ process with a company called Isobar Good, which identified areas for future growth.

“It was 13 weeks of an engaging, challenging and enlightening process, during which we spoke to 14 women who were staying here or who had stayed here to get their feedback on what they liked about the Inn and what they felt could improve,” says Felicity.

“Overwhelmingly, the women loved the communal element of it, that it was homely, safe and they felt nurtured. They also said they gained strength from the other women staying here. It was very affirming to hear those responses from the women.”

The process highlighted about 100 ideas or initiatives that could be considered into the future, which the Inn, through a collaborative process, has narrowed down to about 30 that they hope to work on over the next 12 months.

“We’ve got some great ideas we can take forward and either seek funding for them or incorporate them into our existing operations.”

Good Samaritan Housing

The Tree of Life mural is decorated with the names of the women and children who have passed through GSH community in Brisbane since it launched in 2015.

Meanwhile, in Brisbane, Good Samaritan Housing has expanded its operations from offering one location of four independent living units to women and their children in need, to now having five locations across the city.

Good Samaritan Housing offers supported low-rental accommodation 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.

Case Manager Lana Hudson says the geographical spread means that they didn’t host any combined Mother’s Day activities this year, but pampering and support are part of their regular offerings to residents.

“We have pamper days during the year,” she says. “And we’ve been working with the mothers to provide them with parenting courses and budgeting and other support programs to help them create independence.

“Each mother is really at a totally different stage and so we try to cater to their individual needs to help them achieve that ongoing independence.”

The new accommodation means that Good Samaritan Housing can now reach into Brisbane’s southern suburbs as well as the north to help women in need.

“So, we’re growing and we’re in a transition phase,” says Lana. “We are putting on a new case manager and we’re really focusing on networking in the community to help support our residents in new ways.

“With each mother we have to look at their individual needs and their capacity as to where they’re at so we can assist them to move forward.

“We have one young mum with two kids who is studying, so her needs are different to others, so we tailor programs individually for each of our residents.

“Our aim is to help them into other housing within a year. It’s about different community groups all working together.

“It’s really rewarding, being able to offer the mothers secure, supported housing so we can help them transition to an independent future and Mother’s Day is a good day to reflect on that.”

Debra Vermeer

Debra Vermeer is a freelance journalist working in both Catholic and mainstream media.

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