Inner West Independent

Stepping Out to stability

Stepping Out Director Rochelle Porteous, Stepping Out Chair Trang Dao and Callagher Managing Director Cary Giezekamp / Photo: Mind The Gap

There could scarcely be a greater breach of faith than the sexual abuse Danielle* suffered as a child at the hands of a state-sanctioned youth worker.

It is a memory the 30-year old is understandably not keen to revisit.

“It was somebody who was given that authority who actually then completely violated that trust by using that position to gain access to young people,” she says.

The pain was unrelenting; a barrier Danielle found hard to overcome.

“I kept coming up against this roadblock where I’d get to a certain point in my work or my study and then I’d just hit a wall.”

In 2009, Danielle was in a vulnerable place, having to also confront the death of her father and a close friend. She was living in the inner west but her housing situation was untenable.

“I knew I had to leave.”

At a community centre she discovered a flyer for Stepping Out Housing, a support program for women who have been victims of childhood sexual abuse and are homeless or at risk of homelessness.

Stepping Out describes itself as an intensive six to 12 month program that includes peer support, career development and personal empowerment. It ultimately aims to help its clients lead secure, independent and stable lives.

Director Rochelle Porteous, who is also a Leichhardt Councillor, said the program was about “enabling women to recover, to reengage with the community, to move into employment and study” and “building their skill set so that they’re able to be strong and effective in their local community”.

Stepping Out leases property from Housing NSW, the social housing provider under the NSW Department of Family and Community Services. It also has arrangements with a number of community housing providers.

Once they have completed the program, some women will seek public housing, while others want to move into private rental. Last Wednesday, Stepping Out entered a partnership with Callagher Estate Agents to assist in that regard.

Callagher will also serve as a pro bono advisor on issues such as tenancy management and property maintenance.

“Stepping Out is a great program and we look forward to working with them to achieve good housing outcomes for the women and children that use their service,” said Callagher Managing Director Cary Giezekamp.

Ms Porteous said entering the private market could be “daunting”, particularly for women with no rental history and who may not be familiar with the application process.

“They’ll often be moving from one friend or family member to another friend or family member – couchsurfing – for a long period of time,” she said.

The partnership with Callagher aims to redress the difficulty clients have previously had in securing their own housing.

Danielle lived at a Stepping Out property in Petersham while going through the program. She has since moved into private accommodation in the inner west and, having completed training as a meditation teacher, is studying a masters degree in counselling and psychotherapy.

She also volunteers with the program, sharing her story with other women and facilitating workshops and meditation.

Does she imagine things would have turned out differently if she hadn’t found help through Stepping Out?

“I feel like I probably would have still made it, because human beings are always trying to find the next thing,” Danielle said. “But I think it gave me the opportunity to develop myself to the point where I could actually give back to other people rather than just being stuck in the rut I was stuck in before.”

* Not her real name

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