Sanctuary out to expand
MORE than 40 at-risk women a week, aged from their 40s to 80s, are welcoming the safe, homelike atmosphere and practical supports of Toowoomba's Protea Place.
It is somewhere for homeless and disadvantaged women to shower, wash clothes, pick up new clothes and toiletries, enjoy a hot meal and relax Mondays and Fridays from 10am-2pm, and hopefully soon on Wednesdays.
"It's not just about homelessness but social isolation and mental health and wellbeing," CEO Amanda Dalton said.
Often, healing starts just by sharing a cup of tea, or talking and having a laugh around the dining room table - a normal, homely setting that these women have missed for too long.
"For some of these women, that meal they have with us will be the only one they have all day and probably the only really nutritious meal they have all week," Amanda said.
Protea Place was opened in September last year by Toowoomba Women's Collective which Amanda started in 2018 to fill an increasing void she had seen over her 20 years in social services.
The environment is not structured, with craft and other activities, counselling and information about available services, with the focus on connection. And the holistic, individual approach is getting results.
"We've got women whose lives are being transformed; they are almost unrecognisable," Amanda said. "Women who were so fearful and traumatised they could hardly speak or look you in the eye are now helping to run services and nurturing other women and feeling empowered.''
Amanda said letting women know they are valued and giving their lives purpose again was part of what she had seen being missed by services.
"I wish the community could see the impact a locally based service running on the smell of an oily rag can make … that their money really does make a difference," she said.
And we will, with filming of a short documentary by Thru A Lens Media recently completed, capturing the spirit of days at Protea Place and the testimonials of some of the women.
"Tears, raw honesty, laughter, hope for the future with loads of goosebump moments," the Facebook post said of the film, which was to debut at the collective's International Women's Day lunch on Saturday.
Amanda said many people would be surprised to learn the largest cohort of people receiving Newstart was now aged 50-65. At an age when we expect to be comfortable, these people are struggling to live on just $40 a day, covering rent, food, health, bills and other essentials.
"Sleeping rough only accounts for a small percentage; it's the hidden homeless that continue to grow," Amanda said.
She hoped the collective's 15 Bucks for February fundraiser and the International Women's Day lunch would achieve the $25,000 needed for Protea Place to open its doors on Wednesdays, with an ultimate goal of opening seven days a week.
But she admitted there was an element of "charity fatigue" after the bushfire appeals.
If you can help or you need help, go to http://toowoombawomens collective.org.au/protea-place, phone 0403 756 783 or visit Protea Place at 131 Russell St, Toowoomba.