A little pair of Marvel pyjamas remind Kailah Ladhams of why she comes to work each day.
Folded neatly, with a toothbrush and teddy, the pyjamas were in a backpack she gave to the son of her first client at Malvern Place.
“I’ll never forget how excited he was when he opened the bag,’’ says Kailah, a Family Support Worker.
“He just couldn’t believe he had his own pyjamas and that he got to keep them.’’
For children who come to Malvern Place with nothing, the backpacks mean everything.
“Usually it’s just mum and baby; they might have a pram or capsule but that’s it,’’ Kailah says.
“To be the person who gives a child their backpack is very rewarding. I like that first point of contact.’’
It’s a fleeting chance to make them feel comfortable and safe amidst the immediate chaos that’s brought them to Malvern Place, usually in crisis.
Based at Blair Athol, the service provides support and emergency, short-term, transitional and community accommodation for young pregnant or parenting women, aged 25 or under, who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
The majority of clients present with domestic and sexual violence, drug and alcohol misuse and mental health challenges, says Kailah: “`It’s more than just not having a place to go. A lot of the time their families have broken down or they’ve experienced trauma themselves as children.
“I think of one young woman: She had no family. She saw her dad die when she was young and her mum had huge drug and alcohol issues. She’s never known stability.
“When she came here, she had no one but her baby, and they were fleeing a violent relationship.’’
At Malvern, the young woman blossomed. She was supported to develop parenting and independent living skills, and learned to cook and manage a household budget.
“She has long-term housing, she’s reached her goals and is out of crisis which is great, but it’s hard to let her go,’’ Kailah says.
“There are so many layers to homelessness, and so many stories.
“We’ve got girls here that don’t even know how to make their beds. I’ve had girls ask me what a mattress protector is because in their home, where they were brought up, they didn’t have sheets on the bed or a pillowcase.
“They don’t know how to cook or pay bills so they can be bankrupt at 19. They just slide through life by trial and error.’’
Case Manager of the emergency unit, one of six two-bedroom independent living units on site, Kailah coordinates client supports, transport and, when necessary, acts as an advocate, liaising with other community services and government departments.
Clients can stay in the emergency unit with 24-hour for up to two weeks.
In 2018/19, Malvern Place supported 52 women and 63 children. The youngest mum was aged 16 years.
“ I love that with the service has an open door policy,” Kailah says. “If things don’t work out the first or second time, clients can re-refer.
“Change takes time. Young women who are fleeing unsafe homes might try several times before they leave permanently.
“It takes courage to come back and keep trying. I feel privileged to see that and support them so they have every opportunity to get set on a new path.’’
Kailah says her role has made her stronger over the past two years. She appreciates her own life much more and has grown in resilience.
“I think I already did have empathy and compassion but you have more when you understand why these young women get to the point that they do,’’ she adds.
“People don’t know the history, and where it started from and why. Some of them had no chance with the upbringing they had.’’