09 May 2019

Sharon Levy: Penrith’s Local Woman of the Year

This article was originally published by Cassandra Elliott for Roaming Magazine on 1 May 2019, page 16-17.

Sharon Levy describes herself as ‘Penrith born and bred’. She’s also a mother of three young children, a full-time lawyer at Bartier Perry, and has just been awarded Penrith’s Local Woman of the Year for her work with The Haven.

The award recognised Sharon’s contributions to helping establish a women’s shelter in Penrith.  Sharon is the Chair of The Haven, a shelter for women and children escaping domestic violence (DV) and homelessness in Penrith.

As the 2019 Penrith Woman of the Year, Sharon says she’s very grateful for the honour and humbled to receive it.

“I thank Stuart Ayres for the nomination, the donation and the acknowledgment of the work we’re doing, and the Board and my staff who are exceptional in everything they do.  My family for their support, but mostly the local community who have really gotten behind us.

“I accepted the award on behalf of the whole Board, not just myself, because it’s a team effort and we all work tirelessly to keep us open, but I am grateful for the recognition”.

Sharon said winning this award for her voluntary work with The Haven means that the need for these shelters is being recognised by the community.

“Because we are primarily community-funded, we really rely on community support, so I’m really grateful to the community for opening their arms and wrapping us in support of both The Haven and the women who are staying with us’.

The Haven offers a safe place for women and children escaping homelessness and DV. Unfortunately, Sharon says the two are often linked.

“The primary presenting issue for women seeking our services has been domestic violence, at 89%”.

According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, the number of domestic assault incidents in the Penrith Local Government Area has increased 10.1% per year over the past two years.

“Penrith has the second highest rate in metropolitan Sydney for domestic violence”, says Sharon.

“We provide not only a safe place to stay, but also intensive Case Management and support for women and children that stay with us.  So, whether that looks like general case work or making sure their medical needs are met, we help them find transitional housing or somewhere permanent, or semi-permanent for them stay.  We help them into either the workforce, or we find traineeships or other study for them through local community partnerships”.

The Haven also assists children with the transition.  Whether that’s helping find them a new school or just helping establish a new routine.

“This helps to get the child back on their feet in dealing with the trauma they’ve been through. And it helps to maintain the relationship between the child and the mother”, Sharon says.

“We offer these women, full, wrap-around care and on average, they stay with us for about three months”.

In fact, within the first ten months of opening, The Haven provided over 3,000 bed nights for women and children in need.

“What we’re really doing is really changing lives of our local community.  We’ve been able to empower those women and children to live a life free from violence and homelessness”.

It’s a full-time role at The Haven, which Sharon says is possible because of local community support in understanding the importance of this work.

“I’m really fortunate too that my workplace is really supportive of what I do with The Haven”.

The current house in Penrith is being leased and Sharon says its bursting at the seams, but she has high hopes.

“I would really like to form a relationship with a developer who may have land in Penrith so that we could build a permanent home for The Haven.

“In terms of other shelters, Women’s Community Shelters is the umbrella organisation and they have six shelters in their network of which we’re one, and they’re in the process of working on more.  The shelter network itself is rapidly expanding thanks to the amazing work of Women’s Community Shelters”.

Sharon is very proud of the work The Haven is doing and it currently has a 100% success rate. “None of these women have gone back to their perpetrators. Which is amazing!”

In the lead up to their first birthday, they’re seeking birthday gifts in the form of donations to keep their doors open.  If you’d like to make a fully tax-deductible donation, visit www.givenow.com.au/thehaven.

If you’re touched by the work Sharon and the Board are doing and you’re interested in sponsoring or partnering with The Haven in any way, please contact Sharon directly via: sharon@thehaven.org.au