Heading H.O.M.E – transforming the impossible into possible
BY LERISSE SMITH
A harsh reality for many women who have experienced family violence is that securing a long-term private rental is all but impossible.
However, an innovative and pioneering Salvation Army pilot program, Heading H.O.M.E. (Holistic Outcomes Through Meaningful Engagement), is helping to transform the impossible into the possible, imbuing women with great hope their lives can indeed change for the better through supporting women and children into long-term private rental.
A mother of two, *Sarah is one example of a woman whose life has positively changed through the program’s support in achieving her goal.
“I came from a situation where I had no savings, no money to even buy food for the kids at times,” Sarah said.
“Being a part of this program has helped me save for the future. I want to save and be able to buy a home for me and my children.”
Heading H.O.M.E has run since March this year. The Salvation Army Family Violence Programs and Salvation Army Housing Victoria have been funded through Family Safety Victoria to implement a pilot project to support exit pathways from refuge and crisis accommodation for victim-survivors of family violence in Victoria, along with five other organisations across the state.
The aim of the pilot program is for the victim-survivors to take over a lease at the end of the 12 to 16-month supported tenancy. It headleases properties with women repaying the rent in a tapering model that helps give participants financial breathing space while they get various matters sorted such as Child Support, Centrelink and financial settlements from separation/divorce. The program also allows women to return to work once they are settled in a home.
“Many clients face huge challenges when it comes to securing long-term housing due to the ongoing effects of family violence,” said Bessie Campbell, Senior Family Violence Project Coordinator.
“The greatest benefit of the program is that it supports victim-survivors of family violence to access long-term, sustainable housing options, a crucial factor in their recovery journey from their experiences of family violence.”
“In supporting victim survivors with accessing sustainable housing options as an exit option from refuge and crisis accommodation, Heading H.O.M.E is assisting to free up refuge and crisis accommodation for other victim-survivors who need it. By reducing barriers to accessing private rental properties, the project empowers victim-survivors and supports their journey towards a life free from violence.”
Bessie said the program was currently funded until the end of the 2024-25 financial year, but the team was hopeful the success of the Heading H.O.M.E would result in the program becoming an ongoing one for The Salvation Army. It is currently funded to secure and provide tenancy management support for 35 properties (Brimbank Melton, Barwon, Inner Gippsland, Northeast Metro Melbourne, and Bayside Peninsula Area) and five properties in Ballarat.
Demanding rental market
Sarah and her children, Sam and Annie, lived in short-term and long-term refuges for several months before joining the Heading H.O.M.E program. Many of their immediate and long-term needs had been met, and the family violence risk had been mitigated, so the family was in the recovery phase of their journey and ready to move into suitable long-term accommodation. It was then that their practitioner at the refuge assessed Sarah would be suitable to sustain private rental long-term and completed a referral to Heading H.O.M.E.
Although Sarah had independently applied for rentals while in long-term refuge, she had no savings or income, which had impacted her ability to compete in the demanding Melbourne rental market. She felt hopeless after receiving many rejections from real estate agents on her housing applications, and she was also caring full-time for her children while at the refuge and unable to look for employment.
With the guarantee of 16 months’ rent in advance and the reassurance that Sarah would be supported with her tenancy for that period, Sarah was accepted for a private rental through Heading H.O.M.E.
“After trying so hard for a long time, I felt really lucky when I was finally approved for a rental property,” she said.
Sarah and her children had initially left their home with only one bag of clothes, so they had no furniture, whitegoods or other household essentials. She also did not have the savings to purchase these items.
Through Heading H.O.M.E, an application was completed to a partner philanthropic organisation that could completely furnish the property for Sarah and her children.
Sarah stated that it was just a normal, empty house when she first inspected it properly.
“When I signed the papers, received the key and walked inside, it was so beautifully furnished. There was even a vase with beautiful flowers on the table, and it made me incredibly happy,” Sarah said.
“I have always only had used furniture or things that someone gave me. This is the first time I’ve had new furniture in the house. It felt like a five-star hotel; I’ve never had this before.”
“I feel confident I now have the skills to continue managing my tenancy independently.”
Now living in a stable home, Sarah was ready to start working. Heading H.O.M.E. was able to complete a referral to another partner organisation that employs women in the construction industry. Sarah was able to complete the relevant certificate in construction and was placed in a position that was flexible around her children’s school and understanding of her situation and the challenges that might arise in maintaining employment.
Annie and Sam are now settled well into their new school, with Sarah stating her children are very happy that they now have a place to call home and didn’t have to move anymore. At the end of her supported tenancy period with Heading H.O.M.E, Sarah plans to take over the lease, having been supported by the Heading H.O.M.E Specialist Housing Worker and Recovery Support Practitioner.
“I feel confident I now have the skills to continue managing my tenancy independently,” she said.
(*names have been changed to protect the identity of the family)