Our beginning is linked with the women’s movement of the 1980s and was based simply on women wanting to provide support for other women. At that time, only two of the 36 refuges in Canberra and New South Wales accommodated single women, so Toora Women Inc. (Toora) was established in 1982 to provide a safe shelter and services to the ACT’s most vulnerable homeless women. Toora’s services expanded in 1992 when the Heira Program was launched to provide a safe and supportive environment for women escaping domestic violence (DV), and empower them to make decisions and take more control of their own lives.
Previously, there was no detailed analysis of the needs of single women experiencing homelessness, particularly those who were chronically homeless, mentally ill, chemically dependent or traumatised by violence. Toora’s awareness of the complexity of women’s issues and a focus on continuous adaptation to improve service delivery to clients enabled the development of services that responded to these gaps in the community sector.
For example, not only was Toora Canberra’s only single women’s shelter, but other women’s refuges at that time had a policy of refusing individuals who were chemically dependent. In 1993 Toora founded the Women’s Addiction Recovery Service, which was eventually renamed Women’s Information, Resources and Education on Drugs and Dependency (WIREDD).
Toora began to develop an important political analysis of women’s chemical dependency and women’s experiences in the mental health system. In 2002, our residential drug and alcohol health treatment service, Lesley’s Place, was established for women and their children. Two years later we opened Marzenna, a transitional house providing longer term support to women with dependencies.
The Aleta Outreach Program was established in 2004 in response to the need to support women to maintain their housing tenancies. And in 2010 Toora established the Coming Home Program, an innovative service providing housing, case management and advocacy support to marginalised women exiting prison. Noting the demand by our clients for timely, affordable and specialist counselling in a safe environment, Toora expanded its range of therapeutic services and launched its own counselling service in 2015.
In October 2016, Toora Women Inc. and EveryMan Australia entered into a ground-breaking partnership to provide gender-specific services to former Inanna clients following the collapse of that organisation. The partnership offers vast opportunities to value-add to service delivery using gender-specific case management services.
With this latest expansion, Toora has grown to become the ACT’s largest specialist domestic violence and homelessness service for women and children. It has transformed our services to now include a variety of family programs including the provision of support to a large number of children within our Toora Domestic Violence and Homelessness Services (TDVHS).
This transition has also increased our housing portfolio from 13 to 46 properties. As part of this development, one of our achievements in 2017 was to become a registered community housing provider.
In 2018, the ACT Attorney-General declared Toora Women Inc. a Crisis Accommodation Provider. Toora is an organisation which has been continuously evolving and adapting to the needs of women in the ACT and will continue to serve them into the future.