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Thursday, 04 August 2011 04:58

A safe haven at The Inn

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Good Samaritan Sister, Michelle Reid, believes women are very resilient. "They are the ones that hold the family, partners and children together. They are the ones, who after being knocked down, keep getting up to start again," she says.

Michelle is well placed to make these claims. She has interacted with people from all walks of life in a variety of places. Following many years in teaching and leadership roles in NSW schools, her ministries over the past ten years have connected her with women, men and children living on the edges of life, often in very tough, precarious and complicated circumstances.

Since 2007, Michelle has been Manager of The Good Samaritan Inn in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. The Inn provides crisis accommodation for women and children who find themselves homeless, many as a result of domestic violence.

At any one time The Inn can accommodate three families and two single women. The staff, backed by a large team of volunteers, provide 24-hour support from Monday to Friday.

The Inn provides women with space where they can be safe, have someone they can talk to and support them in the decisions they need to make about their future. For some, this can be the circuit breaker that allows them to stop and reassess their lives.

Michelle would love The Inn to be open 24/7 but 24/5 is all they can sustain financially at the moment. "It's hard to have people in crisis and then they have to leave on Friday," she says.

In the early years, the Good Samaritan Congregation was the sole financial backer with the Good Samaritan Foundation also playing a major role. But now The Inn is also supported by a variety of sources, including some government funding, corporate and community sector support, as well as many individuals and small groups.

So what makes The Inn unique?

"People walk into the building and they sense something is different here. The guests all comment on it," says Michelle. "Other agencies who visit say 'there is calmness in the building'."

A smattering of comments from previous guests says it all: "I have never felt so at home in a stranger's place"; "I felt so comfortable and [it] made me feel like I was worth something"; "It's so peaceful, relaxing and healing here"; "I have never felt more safe and happy. Even my kids are happy"; and "My time has been precious. I got better here".

The results of a soon-to-be-published research study conducted by students at The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology suggest it is The Inn's philosophical approach to homelessness that is different.

"We certainly don't support that one-size-fits-all. We try to maintain the integrity and dignity of the individual person. We have the flexibility to respond to the individual," explains Michelle.

Those who stay at the The Inn are referred to, and treated as, guests, not clients. Michelle says this is fundamental and has an enormous impact on the women and children. She says the staff and volunteers aim to nurture the guests in all sorts of ways, whether it's by preparing meals, ensuring the house is clean and comfortable, or being available to listen at all hours of the day.

"We try to create an environment that is open and welcoming of all nationalities and cultures. For instance, we been having halal meat for three or four years," she says.

Michelle loves her work at The Inn. She describes the place as "a pearl" and "one of the purest forms of what we as a congregation should be on about - being neighbour". She says the women and children she meets each day are "inspirational".

But at the same time, there are days when her role is overwhelming and stressful. It's then that she is very conscious of having balance in her life and planning creative activities for herself. She loves photography and the theatre, and has recently taken up golf.

When she's at The Inn and feeling "really stressed" she has been known to head out to the backyard for some respite. "We have a nice vegie garden, and often if there's kids in the house, I'll go out and get the basket -  and we'll get the vegies for tea and we'll talk. Kids are a source of energy," she says.

"And if there's no kids, I'll just go out and weed. Somehow, pulling those weeds out sort of seems to ground me, and at least I can come back and say, 'Well the day might have been a bugger, but at least I've weeded the vegie garden!'"

The garden has also proved to be an important space for the guests. Michelle recalls the experience of one woman who had some mental health issues and arrived very agitated. She asked if she could rearrange the pot plants in the backyard. A little perplexed, Michelle agreed.

"She would go out there all day, wouldn't interact with others in the house. She only came in for meals and went to bed," explains Michelle.

"She got calmer each day. At the end [of the week] she said to me, 'Somehow, tidying up your messy backyard helped sort my head out'. And I said, 'Well that's great. You've got a clearer head and we've got a better backyard!'"

This is an edited version of 'Michelle Reid SGS, Providing a safe haven for women' by Stephanie Thomas, Editor of The Good Oil, the free monthly e-magainze of the Good Samaritan Sisters. Click here for the full story, which was first published in the March 2011 edition of The Good Oil.

Pathways, March 2011

Have your say...
"What a wonderful ministry. Thank you Michelle and the other great women of our Australian Congregation for truly being good samaritans, neighbours in the best sense of the Gospel call."
- Anne Derwin, 19-03-2011

"The work you do is a great mission. May the Lord sustain and guide you for the good of the people you serve. "
- sr. Elda Sbarra, 25-03-2011