Providence House: a shelter for asylum seekers fleeing domestic violence
Many women and children fleeing situations of domestic and family violence in their home countries have passed through the doors of Providence House. Here are two of their stories.
Mother-of-three Bernette* fled her East Asian home country because of domestic violence targeted at both her and the children. She was terrified for their safety – and there was no help to be had in her country.
Worldwide, an estimated 35% of women have experienced family or domestic violence. In some countries the figure is closer to 70%.
Women fleeing their home country because of domestic violence have a difficult hurdle to clear: international travel is often prohibitively expensive and dangerous. For example, women living in Saudi Arabia must first have permission from a male guardian to leave the country. That same guardian may be her abuser – and in charge of the finances – making leaving close to impossible.
Finding peace at Providence House
Luckily, Bernette managed to make the journey safely. After their arrival in Australia the family relied on the generosity of a community member for a place to stay, but the home was overcrowded and not a good situation for the kids.
Bernette approached the Asylum Seekers Centre (ASC) for help, anxious to find safe accommodation and a way to enrol her children in school. She confessed she was unable to sleep and scared the children were becoming aware of her distress – there was only one month left to apply for protection, or be at risk of detention.
Within a week the ASC moved the family into a two-bedroom unit at Providence House, while an appointed lawyer tackled her protection visa application.
But the effects of trauma and stress don’t disappear overnight. Bernette’s health concerned her caseworker, as she reported intrusive thoughts and found it difficult to eat and sleep. Her youngest son Michael* was also very withdrawn.
The ASC organised a community family service to help Michael by starting him in school-readiness programs. Once she settled in to Providence House, Bernette was able to prioritise her mental health and begin counselling. Over time, she learnt to manage her symptoms.
Despite the family’s mental health difficulties, they were able to move out of Providence House and into their very own rental property after only three months – a huge achievement. All three kids were enrolled in the local public school, giving Bernette peace of mind, as well as time to work on a business plan for a cleaning company!
Joanne’s story: recovering from abuse
Domestic violence in her home country left young mother Joanne* with significant injuries that affected her breathing and mobility. When she arrived at the ASC for help she had nowhere to live, no money and required surgery to treat her injuries. All this, and she was sole carer for her newborn child.
The ASC moved mother and baby into a ground floor unit in Providence House without delay. Joanne was given medication and bandages, and plans were put in place to deal with her medical issues, which required multiple appointments with specialists.
Over time, Joanne began to feel more comfortable at the centre, attending various programs – the ASC offers English and computer classes as well as exercise, craft and music lessons. She joined the volunteers for regular lunches and formed close friendships with other people seeking asylum.
The ASC advocated for the family to receive financial support and extended her stay at Providence House so she could focus on her newborn daughter, as well as getting better. The apartment became not just a place to stay – it was a place to heal, to feel safe again, to think about creating a new life in a new country, free from violence and control.
Providence House and the Asylum Seekers Housing Program
In 2014 the Sisters of Charity Foundation formed a partnership with the Asylum Seekers Centre – the Asylum Seekers Housing Program – to provide their clients with emergency and transitional housing. The Foundation purchased and renovated a 4-apartment residential building in Sydney’s Inner West: Providence House.
Providence House primarily accommodates single women, and families with single or both parents. Some residents have recently arrived in Australia and are in desperate need of immediate support. Others have been in the country longer, but circumstances such as domestic and family violence, or other unexpected changes, have rendered it impossible for them to stay in their previous home. Many have experienced traumatic events in their country of origin, and women in particular may have been subjected to sexual and gender-based violence.
The safety and stability of Providence House helps residents begin to address some of the myriad challenges they face.
*Names have been changed to protect privacy.
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