Baulkham Hills refuge closes after 112 years

Sister Majella Kearney, 96, has kept in contact with several of those she helped care for well into her retirement. She only recently moved out of St Michael's. Picture: Gene Ramirez

Sister Majella Kearney, 96, has kept in contact with several of those she helped care for well into her retirement. She only recently moved out of St Michael's. Picture: Gene Ramirez

The Hills’ only crisis accommodation service for women and children closed its doors this week. ISABELL PETRINIC reports.

The Sisters of Mercy Parramatta closed St Michael’s Family Support and Accommodation Centre after 112 years on Monday to focus on providing other support services for women and children at risk of homelessness.

‘‘It was a sad day,’’ said congregation leader Sister Catherine Ryan.

She said they would move their funds out of buildings to directly funding services.

‘‘Just to renovate the old building would cost over $3 million but it’s still not going to provide the current model of best practice.

‘‘The last residents have all been placed and [co-ordinator] Carol Harding and the board are now in the wind-down.

Ms Harding said the St Michael’s Family Support and Accommodation Centre offers short-term family support in the form of a drop-in centre but there are no other accommodation services for women and children in The Hills.

‘‘Three of the nine families living here at the moment are from The Hills area; that’s about the average,’’ she told the News in February.

‘‘There’s definitely a need for this service.’’

From July 2012 to June last year, the centre received applications for accommodation from 117 women who had 170 children — but only 23 women and 25 children could be accommodated.

In western Sydney 30 per cent of Supported Accommodation Assistance Program clients are single females with children, compared with 19 per cent for NSW.

There is also a greater proportion of females alone and couples with and without children. The main reason for seeking SAAP help in western Sydney is financial difficulty, then domestic and family violence.

St Michael’s provided medium-term supported accommodation, transitional housing, education programs, therapeutic group work, home visits, counselling and supported playgroups — reaching 400 families annually.

In the Hornsby LGA, the Women’s Community Shelters Board has agreed to provide nearly $1 million over three years to help establish The Hornsby Kuring-gai Women’s Shelter but the shelter will be for women without children facing difficult domestic circumstances.

‘‘The majority of the homeless in Hornsby, about 320, are hidden homeless, particularly women, in that they are couch surfing or sleeping in their cars,’’ Hornsby deputy mayor Nathan Tilbury said.

He said the shelter could open this month.

Pick up Thursday's Hills News to read more about the plight of The Hills' homeless.


Historical snapshot

Between 1902 and 1982 the Sisters of Mercy cared for more than 4000 children at St Michael's.

They also provided programs for homeless and at-risk women and their children through medium-term supported accommodation, transitional housing, targeted education programs, therapeutic group work, home visiting services, counselling and supported playgroups.

‘‘The family day care services will continue under the Diocese of Parramatta," congregation leader, Sister Catherine Ryan, said.

She said the church would remain unaffected by their decision and 10 retired nuns would continue to live on-site.

Sister Majella Kearney, 96, has kept in contact with several of those she helped care for well into her retirement. She was a house mother in the cottages until 1989, and cooked, washed and cared for the more than 200 boys at the orphanage — on the site of the Hills Private Hospital — until it closed in 1969.

She said many boys were sent to the orphanage when their fathers went to war and poverty left mothers unable to support them.

"In the big orphanage we sometimes had over 100 boys under 10," she said."They weren't all real orphans, just children in need."

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