On International Women’s Day, let’s remember the women most at risk

When Imogen approached Justice Connect, she was facing eviction into homelessness.

This International Women’s Day, we’re working to make the world better for women like Imogen. A single-parent of three, she had fallen behind in rent after having to pay for her mother’s funeral. Imogen’s landlord told her that she had fourteen days to get out, but she had nowhere to go.

Fortunately, Imogen was connected with Justice Connect. We were able to help her negotiate with her landlord, keeping her and her kids safely housed. But without legal help, Imogen would have been one of the growing number of Victorians, particularly women, facing homelessness.

There are now over 25,000 homeless Victorians and despite the stereotype of the older, homeless man sleeping rough, the reality is very different. Almost half of people facing homelessness are women. In 2017-18, nearly two-in-three people accessing homelessness services were women.

These women often carry the added burden of parenthood with the risk or reality of homelessness. There are over 82,000 people on the Victorian social housing waiting list, including more than 24,000 children. Many are single mothers and survivors of family violence, and the cloud of factors that contribute to and are exacerbated by homelessness – substance dependence, mental health, violence and more – are everpresent in the women we see in our work.

This is why we created the Women’s Homelessness Prevention Project; to prevent the eviction of women and children, and to break the links between homelessness and family violence. It’s the only legal service of its type in Victoria, focussed on stopping homelessness before it starts through intensive free legal representation combined with social work support.

Integrated legal service achieves safer, fairer and stronger community

In four years of the project, 214 women with 305 children have received this kind of integrated legal representation and social work support. Eighty-four per cent of these women had survived family violence.

We have directly prevented the eviction of 117 women and their children into homelessness, which represented an estimated $3.6 million in community savings. A client of the Project recently told us “Working with Justice Connect made a huge difference in the level of support and understanding of my legal issues…I coped a lot better, thank you.” 

Innovative cross-sector collaboration creates resilience

The project is about more than keeping women and children safe in their homes. We connect the people we help with not only legal representation, but also social work and family violence support, financial coaching, job readiness and community programs.

This cross-sector partnership is targeted at empowering more women and children to build resilience and achieve better futures. This International Women’s Day, it’s vital that we think not only of women in the workplace seeking equal pay, and women seeking representation in politics and leadership roles in the business and political realms.

We know that women in times of great vulnerability also have great potential. It’s with support from organisations like Justice Connect, and our colleagues across the homelessness support sector, that women can break the cycle of violence and homelessness and get a fair chance at a better life for themselves and their kids. 

Sam Sowerwine is the Principal Lawyer of Justice Connect’s Homeless Law service.

Here’s a snapshot of the work of the Women’s Homelessness Prevention Project’s work and its impact.

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