Home is where Leanne’s heart is

Cher Jimenez

AFTER more than two decades working in the community services and disability sectors, Leanne Russ has seen enough to know what it means for a woman experiencing family violence to have a safe roof over her head.

Ms Russ took a year off work and transformed a 280 sqm property on the edge of the Morwell CBD into a social enterprise that she aptly called the Women’s Accommodation Project.

The Churchill resident completed the majority of the renovations for her new project and is hoping to address a gap in the homelessness support system where older women have limited options when it comes to accommodation.

“I often see women who are disadvantaged for a number of reasons and there’s very limited options for accommodation for them,” she told The Express.

Ms Russ bought the property for $290,000 out of her own pocket is not looking for a return of investment.

“I always wanted to do something. I think it’s time to put my money where my mouth is,” she said.

“Homelessness is a really hidden problem.

“Out here it tends to be more hidden so there’s couch-surfing, staying with friends which is not sustainable or even staying in a relationship that’s really unhealthy it’s not safe. If people had an option of somewhere to go then it might change outcomes for them. This is hopefully an option for them.”

The rooming house has six bedrooms with air conditioners including one that is wheelchair accessible, a wheel-in shower, two kitchens, three showers and five toilets and an open area and a garden where residents can enjoy the sun.

Ms Russ took to GoFundMe to source some money for the cost of building a custom-made rail for an accessibility ramp.

The rooms will be offered for lease and Ms Russ said she has been in discussions with locally-based service providers who may have clients that fit her criteria for tenants.

“It will be affordable on Newstart and I’m actually anticipating most of the rooms will be taken up,” she said adding that tenants need not worry about cleaning.

Tenants can also bring their pets.

Ms Russ said rent paid will cover the running costs of managing the facility such as the rooming house association fees, health department checks, rates and utilities.

She will manage the facility herself and do the daily cleaning.

“It’s ideal for someone who is in absolute crisis,” she said.

“They don’t have to worry about the logistics of cleaning or if there’s toilet paper or (a) clean tea towel.

“Everything’s provided like that.”

Ms Russ said her friends donated beds and other furniture when they learned about her project.

She added tenants would be required to sign a behavioural conduct document to ensure that everyone in the facility feels safe.

“Things like bullying or antisocial behaviour or threats of violence are absolutely not acceptable, which is another reason why I want to be involved,” she said.

“Another reason why I want service providers involved is because there’s that another layer of accountability.”

To support Ms Russ and her project go to www.gofundme.com/f/women039s-accommodation-project