We need your help to keep the Spirit of Christmas alive for the women, men and children in our community who need it most.
For many of us, Christmas holds special memories of warmth, family, and feelings of being connected to our loved ones. For some, it sadly holds memories of trauma that only time, and support from services like St Bart’s, can begin to heal.
It was on Christmas Day last year when Sarah and her 12-year-old daughter Ella found themselves homeless after living in a domestic violence situation. The next four months were spent couch surfing with friends and family while Ella continued in her first year of high school, for many a challenge in itself, as though nothing had happened.
Always making sure Ella had a safe house to stay in each night, Sarah would sleep on the couch and give Ella the bed if one was available. At one point they were relying on hotels – one in particular was going into voluntary administration and had some cheap rooms going. The manager was understanding when Sarah couldn’t pay some nights immediately and had to wait for her Centrelink payments to come through.
“I was crying my eyes out one night in the bathroom, not knowing where we were going, and I just hung my head in hurt, shame and frustration thinking everything was such a mess,” Sarah said. “I thought Ella was asleep but she came in and lifted my head up and said, “Mum, life is an adventure with you and I wouldn’t have it any other way.””
Mature beyond her years, Ella has always been her Mum’s protector. “There were times when Mum’s ex would go to hurt her and I would intervene so that she could run,” she says. “I would jump in front of Mum in any situation if it meant she would be safe.”
A contact at the Department of Community Protection helped Sarah and Ella team up with St Bart’s, and the inseparable pair have been able to call St Bart’s Family Service “home” since April.
Since coming to St Bart’s, Ella says things have gotten easier. “It’s closer to school so I’m not traveling two hours every day, and it’s knowing that after school, instead wondering where I’m going to be or who I am going to be around that night, I now know I have a home to go to. I’d rather be living here than anywhere else, to be honest.”
While she admits that when these bad memories come up she often retreats and becomes quiet, Ella hasn’t let anything get in the way of succeeding at whatever she puts her mind to. Despite moving primary school five times, she held the highest academic award for three years in a row. She also plays football for a premiership league team, is part of the gifted and talented program at school, and sings in the Australian Girls Choir.
“My grades have changed immensely,” she says. “School is much easier now, I’ve been able to see my friends more, and having time to myself has been really nice.”
For Sarah, the one valuable lesson she says she has learned on her journey is to have a backbone. “I was a people pleaser before and always fearful of upsetting people, but at what risk? Seeing Ella go through all of this, I regret so much.”
Taking each day as it comes, this tight-knit mother-daughter team are looking forward to a quiet Christmas dinner this year with close family.
“Last year was pretty traumatic, so this year we’ll just ease into it,” says Sarah. “Knowing we have a roof over our head is one less major stress. A little tree and some lights would be nice.”
St Bart’s supports more than 500 people each year by providing them with safe and supported accommodation, helping them work through the causes of their homelessness and management of mental illness with a team of dedicated case managers and support workers.
A donation today will help us continue to provide accommodation and support for families just like Sarah and Ella who, without St Bart’s, may face trauma rather than a celebration this Christmas.
Help us share the Spirit of Christmas.