Sister Marcellin Wilson
Fighting for social justice has always been central to Sister Marcellin’s life. In her own words: ‘It is simply the part of our church that I respond to.’
Discovering there was a need for emergency accommodation in Wellington, Sister Marcellin set about finding out more about what could be done to set up a safe place for women who find themselves homeless. ‘I quickly saw that there was more to it than just a place to stay – women also needed help to overcome the major barriers in their lives. I have always felt moved to help people retain their dignity.’
So how did it all begin?
‘I was in Kilbirnie while the Hill Street convent was being renovated and a policewoman constable rang me. She was a past pupil of St. Catherine’s College and thought we would help. She said there were two young women who had nowhere to go – I think they had been evicted from their homes – and she asked if we could provide some emergency accommodation. We had no spare rooms, so I suggested that she try the Home of Compassion. I rang the Home a few days later and to find out what had happened to them and they told me that they hadn’t taken them in because they had no night supervision. I was appalled that there was nowhere for these women to go.
‘I decided that I would approach a few people I knew in women's religious orders in Wellington and see if we could make a difference. Sister Raye Boyle, Karen Holland, Sister Catherine Hannan and I started to do some research to see if there was a real need for emergency accommodation. In the end we interviewed more than 20 organisations and providers over a two-year period. We talked to people running night shelters, health centres, the Downtown Ministry, Wellington City Council, the Ministry of Social Development and Otago university researchers to find out if there was a need for transitional accommodation for women – and there certainly was.
‘We decided that there was no point in going ahead unless we could make it work financially so we then had to find funding. It is amazing what you can achieve if you have faith and you ask the right people in the right way. Many of the religious orders gave very generously, as have a number of individuals and organisations. It is marvellous how people have responded – I think the donor list is around 100 people.’
Ironically though, once they had the funding, the group – which at this stage was becoming a Trust – couldn’t find anyone who was prepared to provide them with long-term accommodation. ‘Finally a wonderful Wellington landlord came to our rescue and we secured a two-year lease on a central city building. And of course then we found our wonderful house manager, who has helped make the whole thing work.
‘We have made a good start by providing a human response to a real need,’ says Sister Marcellin.
‘Now we just need to find a more sustainable funding source, so we can continue to make a difference in the lives of these women who need our help.’