Debbie Georgopoulos’ fight for vulnerable women to find affordable housing in Australia

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For one in six women in Australia, their home is tied to a memory of being pinned against the wall, yelled or screamed at. What was supposed to be a safe place became a place where there was no sleep and only anxiety. 

Why? Domestic and family violence – that’s why. 

It’s an unfair reality but it’s a fact that plagues our society. We all know domestic and family violence exists yet it’s something not easily discussed over dinner. That’s because it has a painful impact as we might have experienced it or know of someone else who has.

But ahead of International Women’s Day tomorrow, The Greek Herald wants to shine a light on domestic and family violence and how it can lead to homelessness.

Specifically, we talk with an inspirational Greek Australian woman who works behind the scenes like a lifeguard, throwing out a lifebuoy to save women who are in crisis.

Providing crisis accommodation to women:

Debbie Georgopoulos is Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Women’s Housing Company (WHC) in New South Wales. 

Debbie Georgopoulos.

Ms Georgopoulos tells The Greek Herald many women are falling through the cracks of Australia’s affordability housing crisis.

“Women are most vulnerable because they have been disadvantaged in terms of equal pay, less superannuation, impacted by domestic and family violence. For those that we’re able to assist with support and with our homes, it changes their life,” she says.

The WHC provide crisis, transitional and affordable housing for three to 12 months to single women, or women with children, who need somewhere safe to stay immediately. They also provide women who have low-income jobs with long term subsidised housing.

At current, there are 1,100 homes around Sydney and the Hunter Valley, with a specially built crisis accommodation centre in Sydney’s south west. 

‘We need a whole community solution’:

For Ms Georgopoulos, one of the biggest drivers of homelessness in women is domestic and family violence, but she says this can be eliminated with a community approach. 

“It’s a whole community problem and it needs a whole community solution,” she says.

“The housing crisis in general is an area where there are really strong and positive initiatives that are happening at the state and federal level. But more needs to be done.”

Debbie with colleagues from the WHC.

This is something which rings true as according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 42 per cent of the clients of specialist homelessness services have experienced family and domestic violence.

parliamentary inquiry last October also revealed that homelessness in NSW is experienced particularly by women aged over 55. It was recommended that the state government consider lowering the age for elderly priority public housing from 80 to 55 to help solve this issue. 

Empowering women:

Understanding social injustice is inherent to Ms Georgopoulos. Born to Greek migrants, she says that when she was growing up she had a real understanding of the importance of opportunity.   

Debbie with her parents at graduation.
Debbie as a young woman.

“I look back on my parents’ life, who were born during WWII and all I can see is a lack of opportunity,” she says. 

“And so, I think the best thing we can provide in Australia is opportunity to women so they can reach their full potential.” 

In Ms Georgopoulos’ eyes, this opportunity relates to access to safe and affordable housing as it allows women to escape abuse and prevents homelessness. 

“Providing housing to women who are vulnerable… that’s the most precious thing we can do,” Mr Georgopoulos explains, whilst stressing her plans for the future.

“My hopes for the Women’s Housing Company are that we don’t need to exist one day. That one day all women will have a safe, secure and affordable home and our work will be done.”

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