For 21 years the Good Samaritan Inn in Melbourne has provided crisis accommodation for thousands of women and children escaping homelessness and domestic violence. In that time, however, it has faced a significant challenge: because of limited funds The Inn’s doors could only stay open from Monday to Friday.
But as of last month, thanks to a successful application for funding from the Victorian Government, The Inn’s doors are now open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“This is simply great news for women and children,” said Michael McDonald, Chair of The Inn’s Board.
“The long-held desire to provide a 24/7 service has lived in the hearts of all involved in its work. As of October the dream became reality. The Good Samaritan as it is expressed in The Inn now has open and welcoming hands every hour of the day and every day of the year.”
Cassandra Williams, Director of The Inn, said the expansion to a 24/7 service had been an objective for many years, but because The Inn was “such a small organisation” it was difficult to achieve.
“When the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence handed down its findings and made specific recommendations about crisis accommodation and investing more money and more time into small operations like ours, we were able to use that to make a business case and present it to government,” explained Cassandra.
“That was quite a process, actually… The previous Director, Christine Abson, did a lot of work on that for months and months… It’s very competitive out there, but we worked really hard and I’m really glad that we’ve been able to be successful.”
Cassandra said that planning for, and making the transition to, a 24/7 service had also taken considerable time and effort. Last year, prior to her appointment as Director, Cassandra was employed on a six-month contract to prepare the organisation for a 24/7 service model.
“In that time I updated all the policies and procedures, I did all our new risk assessments, and just basically went through the service with a fine tooth comb to make sure that once we got the money we could basically roll it out straight away,” she said.
Cassandra was employed elsewhere when the news came through that the funding application had been accepted.
“I was so excited,” she said, “because I knew everything was ready to go. All you’d have to do was basically say, ‘Yes we’re opening’ and hire some new staff. So as soon as I came on board that was my plan, to get it up and running as soon as possible.”
Cassandra began as Director in late August, and now one month after making the transition to a 24/7 service, she said “everything is running pretty smoothly”. But the team can’t rest on its laurels; government funding is assigned over 12-month periods.
“What government is doing now is it’s only giving [organisations] 12 months of funding and saying, ‘Coming up to the 12 months, we’ll reassess and see where you are’. So you’ve always got to be on your game every single year,” she said.
“It’s tough. That’s why it’s so important that we have philanthropic donations as well to keep us afloat.”
Cassandra said The Inn had always relied quite heavily on donations from people in the community, but now that support was even more important.
“People seem to think, ‘Oh well, you’re funded by government now, we don’t need to do anything more’, but it’s almost more important because we’re growing, we’ve got way more women and children needing spaces. We’re trying to expand to get them more accommodation and we just don’t have the funding behind us to service all these people,” she said.
“As soon as somebody leaves we’ve got a referral straight away. There’s no down-time. It’s just so busy. Now that the Royal Commission [into Family Violence] has come out and Rosie Batty’s story is everywhere, more and more women are coming out and admitting the family violence that has been going on in the home for years, and so the services are just chock-a-block.”
A ministry of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan, The Inn began its life in 1996 when Sister Anne Dixon had a dream to welcome and care for people experiencing homelessness into her home. Anne was joined by Sister Helen Mills and together, with many other sisters and volunteers, the Good Samaritan Inn was established.
Cassandra said in 2017 The Inn continues that work providing women and children with a safe, temporary home in which they have the opportunity to rest and recover before their next steps.
“This year The Inn supported 229 women and 274 children through safe and secure accommodation, emotional support and a small amount of peace and security in one of the most challenging times of their lives,” she said.