In the lead-up to White Ribbon Day on November 25 two women who have left violent relationships spoke to the Leader about life in a refuge and the importance of keeping refuges for women only. Belinda Connolly reports.
Women's refuges an oasis of safety
WOMEN and children leaving violent homes may be shut out of refuges as the state government’s new homeless plan rolls out.
The Going Home, Staying Home strategy was announced by Housing NSW as a solution to homelessness. One of its changes has seen some women’s-only refuges forced to change to take all people, not just women, needing crisis accommodation.
Staff at Crossroads Community Care Centre, a Miranda-based family and community service provider, are horrified the changes mean some women and their children are now living in cars when they leave violent homes.
Christine Bird and Michele Taylor said there used to be 88 women’s refuge services in NSW that received funding, a number that has recently plummeted to 19.
‘‘When there were 88 [centres] only one in two women could be accommodated,’’ said Ms Bird. ‘‘Now they have to line up with everyone who is homeless.’’
Ms Bird said Crossroads has eight units for women and children and they are often full.
They have seen cases of women leaving the family home, but end up sleeping in their cars or ‘‘couch surfing’’.
‘‘Where are these these women supposed to go?’’ Ms Taylor said.
Crossroads receives no funding for their women-only emergency accommodation.
Jean’s Place, a St George women’s refuge, closed on October 31.
A spokeswoman for the St Vincent de Paul Society, which runs Sutherland Shire-based Amelie House emergency accommodation, said: ‘‘the St Vincent de Paul Society can confirm that there has been no impact on Amelie House as a result of the specialist homeless services tender announcement earlier this year’’.
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Living in fear and seeking a safe place
SAMANTHA Jones* grew up in a home watching her dad physically attack her mum and thought this behaviour normal.
When her partner began beating her she thought her options were to stay and endure the attacks or become homeless.
She left a few times but returned, unable to continue living in her car.
‘‘It is very scary to live like that — you just feel this fear, you don’t want to put the key in the lock, you don’t want to open the door,’’ she said.
‘‘The fact you’re leaving makes the man even madder.’’
After her former partner attacked her when her son was a baby she knew she had to leave but had no idea where to go until a social worker told her about a Sutherland Shire women’s refuge.
Mrs Jones didn’t know there was somewhere for women like her to go.
‘‘I didn’t even know they existed — hundreds of women stay in these [violent] situations because they don’t know refuges are available,’’ she said.
‘‘It is heartbreaking to be in that situation in the first place. No one wants to be a victim of domestic violence.
‘‘It was so good to be able to feel safe — I can’t imagine where I would have gone. The only place I could go was back to the abuser or be homeless on the street.’’
The thought of allowing anyone at risk of homelessness to stay in refuges upsets and angers her.
‘‘If I had to share with men I would stay with the abuser — I would rather take a punch just so my son didn’t have to be around strange men.’’
Janelle James* is another woman concerned by the possibility of making refuges open to men.
Ms James has lived in two refuges in Sutherland Shire, most recently 18 months ago, after leaving an abusive relationship.
Now living independently, Ms James and her children experienced shared accommodation refuges, where residents have their own bedroom but share facilities such as the kitchen.
Adding homeless men to the mix would make such accommodation untenable, she said. ‘‘I think it is horrible — it makes it unsafe for women and children,’’ she said.
‘‘They’re not listening to what is needed. Women need a safe place — I can’t stress that enough.’’
‘‘You don’t know their history; it’s too risky, especially if the children have been traumatised.
‘‘I think they should all be separated as a lot of people go in there to be protected and are healing from abuse.’’
Having specialised, trained staff running domestic violence shelters was also vital to ensure safety and privacy standards, she said.
‘‘One of the refuges I stayed at had the perfect screening test and it was awesome to be able to stay there.’’