An insight into the housing struggle

Mary McInerney has always had a strong sense of social justice and a desire to reach out and connect with those who are vulnerable.

Underpinned by her Catholic faith, Mary shares her experience in supporting residents in Villa Maria Catholic Homes Affordable Housing units. VMCH provides housing support to 399 Victorians aged over 55 across 21 locations.

Tell me about your role as a Pastoral Care Outreach Worker with VMCH:

“I took up the new role in 2016. It involved building relationships with residents, mainly those more marginalised and vulnerable, and providing them with emotional, spiritual and mental support.”

How does your role align with VMCH’s Mission?

“Our Mission is very much about supporting and having compassion for marginalised people. Respecting the dignity of all is in line with our Catholic tradition. Personally, I think it’s important we continue the work of Christ and know we can make a difference in society if we work together.”

What do you get out of the role?

“It’s rewarding and challenging. It takes a lot of time to build up that repour with people. When you hear their stories and what some people have gone through I think how resilient they are…how they keep on going despite adversity.”

What did you do before your role as Pastoral Care Outreach Worker?

I studied Pastoral Care and was a teacher and outreach worker in Collingwood, working with disadvantaged families and students. Prior to VMCH, I worked at Regina Coeli in North Melbourne – a semi-permanent home for up to 30 women waiting for secure housing, which could take months or years. I was amazed at people’s life stories and what led them to where they were now.

71 per cent of VMCH Affordable Housing residents are female… why do you think there’s a greater need for housing support for women?

“Many women have come because of a low income, lack of permanent housing, separation, divorce or abuse. Some women mightn’t have had budgeting skills or worked in the past as their husband was the main provider. They didn’t choose this path of life but this is where they’re at now.”

What are the common challenges you see residents face?

“Before they come into Affordable Housing there’s often a two to three year waitlist so that causes a lot of anxiety and stress. For some, managing their finances is tough… mounting medical bills for example can leave people feeling low and unable to buy food and other essentials. Sometimes there’s a difficult family situation and they’re alone and hurting.”

August 6-12 is Homelessness Week. What do you think can be done to address this issue?

Basically, we need more affordable and social housing stock. We need to lobby the Government and stop giving over buildings in prime spots to private developers. I think that’s absolutely appalling. We also need to become more aware of the reality of what drives people to become homeless like mental health, domestic and drug and alcohol abuse.”

What do you hope to see for VMCH Affordable Housing residents in the future?

“I hope they have a real sense that this is their home – that they don’t have recurring homelessness or instability. That they feel valued by the VMCH community and we help them build up the confidence to have a voice and feel heard.”