Canberra mothers finding support, shelter at Karinya House since 1997
With Mother’s Day looming, a Canberra organisation offering care and temporary housing to pregnant and postpartum women and their children recently marked 25 years of service.
Karinya House began in 1997 as a not-for-profit centre providing 24-hour, seven-day-a-week care to women requiring safe accommodation and non-judgmental prenatal, postpartum and parenting assistance. The facility serves around 180 women annually, many of whom have experienced homelessness, mental health concerns, domestic and/or family violence and trauma. Some have also faced challenges with drugs and alcohol.
Karinya House founder and Catholic church member Margaret O’Donovan said the idea for Karinya House came to her after she had five children in six years.
“I realised that I had enormous support,” Ms O’Donovan said. “[And that] maybe there’s a lot of people out there who are faced with a pregnancy without that support.”
She said many women lacked family support with early parenthood in Canberra due to the transient nature of the city’s demographic.
“Historically, many people come from elsewhere, and their family is interstate,” she said.
Her team sought to fundraise $250,000 to begin the initiative, which took five years to complete. Throughout the process, Ms O’Donovan continued working as a physiotherapist while fundraising and planning for Karinya House. While the team began with a 3-bedroom house with a small flat five years ago, they were upgraded to a purpose-built facility provided by the ACT Government. This facility can house up to 11 women and their babies simultaneously.
She said the organisation received generous grants from the ACT Government to offer the services they could provide. They also relied on the generosity of donors and the work of partner organisations such as Roundabout Canberra, which formed as a program to clean and collate donated used goods such as maternity and baby clothing, strollers and car seats.
Ms O’Donovan said the needs of women who sought assistance from Karinya House varied; while some came to stay for a couple of weeks, others stayed for several years. Many came from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; many were Indigenous Australians. However, each was provided trauma-informed, ethical and woman-centred care through the work of case managers.
“There are several women in the community who don’t need to stay but still need support,” she said.
Ms O’Donovan said the organisation’s goal was to keep engaging with the community in grassroots ways and provide high-quality services to women and children in need of care.
She said the main ways people could be involved were by donating to work, offering their services as a volunteer or volunteering for Roundabout. For more information about Karinya House, see here (https://karinyahouse.asn.au/). To find out more about Roundabout, visit (https://roundaboutcanberra.org/).