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Sista Girls speaking out

A unique retreat is providing Sista Girls a place to relax, recuperate and work towards their goals.

Fishing, yarning and painting finger nails in turquoise glitter... this is what a perfect retreat looks like. 

On an idyllic tropical beach, one hour from Townsville, North Queensland, six Sista Girls have arrived to relax, recuperate and plan for the future. 

Today the Sista Girls, transgender Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people, are speaking to Red Cross and other services about working towards their goals.

Four of the six Sista Girls on the retreat are homeless and are supported by Red Cross to gain and maintain a secure place to live.

Wilma Kemp heads the Red Cross Street to Home Program, working with people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless to live safely, build life skills and make community connections.

Her team has been building a relationship with the Sista Girls in Townsville for four years, breaking down barriers and making sure they feel comfortable and supported.

“They're the most vulnerable people on the street because you can identify crisis accommodation for men, crisis accommodation for women, but not so for Sista Girls.  As Sista Girls, life on the streets is dangerous and difficult.”

“Where do they fit in?” Wilma says.

We joined the retreat to learn more about the ladies and the Sista Girl community in the region and how to better support them.

Jada is 37 and has been on the streets since she ran away from home at age 13.

What’s life like on the streets?

It's tough. It's not normal. It's hard, very hard.

Sometimes we have to go and steal, like a little lunch or just to feed. Every time we’d ask somebody on the street, we’d get charged for begging. So we don't ask anymore. We go and steal. And then when we tell that that to the judge he's like, get a job. Like how can I get a job when I've got a criminal record?

What are your goals after the retreat?

I was hoping to get a place of my own so I can take others, like, other little Sista Girls in.  My future is to get a job, get my own place and a car.

When you're a minority within a minority, you can become very disconnected from essential services.

Kris Fischer, NRAIC

Frae is 23 and has just moved into a place of her own after couch surfing with family.

What’s it like couch surfing?

It makes you feel a little uncomfortable because you don't have your own room, you don't have privacy.

I've been arguing with family and I couldn't live around them anymore. I didn't feel safe.

You have your own place now. How does it feel?

Oh my God. I feel like me again. So much a weight lifted off my shoulders.

I feel safer, I feel like I don't have to rely on anybody.

My next goal is getting a car and to study hair and makeup.

Mother Ella is well known in the Sista Girl community and is often a spokesperson for the group.  Mother Ella is currently homeless.

Being a Sista Girl on the street, we get a lot of respect from Aboriginal people, they take us where they sleep.  We just stay amongst ourselves.  We go to the drop-in centre, do our washing. I use the diversionary centre in Townsville, it's a night shelter.

Why did you come on the retreat?

It’s a long way from everybody and it's safe out here too, and we get on really good out.

We don’t see each other all the time, we only see one another now and again. It's not an everyday thing where we can sit down and talk.

What would you like to happen after the retreat?

The Sista Girls can go to places and sit down in a community and feel comfortable and catch up.

It's just not only Townsville, it could be Rockhampton, Doomadgee or the Aboriginal communities for those Sista Girls too.

When I was in Doomadgee working, I just plucked my eyebrows, put my eyebrows on, put a bit of foundation, doing my hair up, and I'm out, you know. My sister said you're not going to wear that.

Of course. I'm not going to hide it.

What’s next?

Red Cross and the Northern Regional Aboriginal and Islander Corporation (NRAIC) are working with the Sista Girls to create a safe space for them to meet on a regular basis and access support.

Kris Fischer from NRAIC says when you're a minority within a minority, you can become very disconnected from essential services.

“We give the girls a voice so they've got ownership and it's not just somebody else telling them what to do and where to go.”

Wilma says the retreat has given the ladies a safe place to be themselves and that’s seen their strengths and skills shine.

“Just the conversations we're having around our meals, they looked at me and said, thanks for making us feel like women.”

Mother Ella says they simply want to be themselves.

“We want the community to come together with us, and we're out together as a community.”

Red Cross empowers peoples to have a voice, to create opportunities and to feel connected in their community.

Retreat from the Street is an annual event for men, women and Sista Girls who are homeless or at risk of homelessness in Townsville.

Case managers and other agencies talk to participants about services available and relevant to their needs and aspirations.

The retreats are part of our Street to Home Program, funded by the Department of Housing and Public Works.

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