Ita Holland and Cecilia Leibu are both strong, independent women. Though their journey’s to accessing Affordable Housing with Villa Maria Catholic Homes (VMCH) are different, they share a tenacity to overcome trauma in their lives.
VMCH provides housing support for 399 people aged 55 and over, 71 per cent of residents are single females.
International Women’s Day (March 8) is a day to reflect on the role of women in our society, the barriers they face, and what they still have to overcome. For VMCH, our work highlights women who have experienced unnecessary hardship due to circumstances which often are out of their control.
East Ivanhoe resident and mother of two, Ita, 78, was forced to grow up earlier than most.
Her mother died when she was 14, leaving her to help raise her eight siblings, the youngest of whom was two. What resulted was a close-knit family. Ita’s sister, Heather, lives two doors down and she stays in touch with her other siblings. Sadly, 18 months ago, another sister Denise was killed in a level crossing accident. Then shortly after, another sister Sue died from a brain aneurism.
Richmond resident Cecilia Leibu had a difficult childhood but for different reasons.
“My home life wasn’t happy, I was scared of my dad,” she recalled. “Growing up I probably lived in a lot of fear. I journeyed along, worked as a receptionist at General Motors where I met my first husband, Max. I soon began to realise I had made a mistake in the person I married as he reminded me of my father, but I went forth and had three beautiful sons.”
Ita too raised two “beautiful” boys with her husband, Les, in Greensborough. Years later, Les took early retirement and pair moved to Port Fairy. Unfortunately, Les passed away and Ita was left to contemplate her future – choosing the “safe” and “secure” option of affordable housing.
Cecilia too was experiencing big change.
“Sometime in my middle forties I decided I needed psychological help. I spent six years trying to make myself better. In 1996, I walked out (on Max).
Years later Cecilia met her second husband, Martin. Together, they shared a lovely life, though not without adversity. Cancer plaugued Martin and the pair ran into financial strife.
“Sadly we went gambling. And we lost quite a bit of money.”
Cecilia reached out to Villa Maria Catholic Homes. The pair moved into their Richmond affordable housing unit in May 2017. Martin died five months later.
Without access to subsidised rent through affordable housing, both women fear where they’d be.
“I wouldn’t have been able to afford living in a private house on a pension,” Ita said. “Rents are exorbitant if you’re a widow like me. I’d probably be living in public housing, which is very hard to get. Villa Maria Catholic Homes are excellent. Here, I’m independent and I’m comfortable.”
Cecilia agreed. “(Living here) means that I’m not stressed out. I feel in the private sector, you’re always wondering, ‘are they going to get rid of you’? Here, I feel safe, that’s my main priority.”
VMCH CEO Sonya Smart said the ability for people, particularly single women, to keep a quality roof over their heads was one of the most “compelling issues” facing Australian communities.
“For me, today (IWD) is an opportunity to focus on women, who on a daily basis, work, care for family and friends and who have often struggled to financially support themselves and their families.
“I’m proud of our 82 per cent strong female workforce at VMCH, and recognise the important role VMCH plays as an employee to provide a flexible place to work, so women and men can juggle the important role supporting their family plays in their lives.”