NSW State Government homelessness reforms have excluded forty women’s refuges from funding already forcing closures in Sydney’s inner-city. ADELE PALFREEMAN examines the consequences of the declining number of safe spaces for women.
One Australian woman is killed every week as a result of domestic violence. In NSW, more than 27 000 domestic assaults were reported in 2013.
Despite this, at least eight inner city women’s refuges will close down because of the NSW Government’s Going Home and Staying Home reform. These services have assisted over 40 000 women and children in the past two decades.
The Minister for Family and Community Services, Gabrielle Upton, said the reform would provide $70 million to improve homelessness facilities across the state. However, 40 women’s refuges were excluded from the package, one women’s-only shelter was offered for the inner city.
Jean’s Place in Sydney’s inner-west has assisted thousands of women and children since 1975, but was forced to close last week under the reform.
Tracey Robinson, the manager of Jean’s Place, said the changes are foreshadowing a “complete disaster.”
“I feel that there will be more women and children murdered. I don’t see how it is going to work. I mean, how many women and children have been murdered in the past 12 months? I don’t know how logically they think this is the best way to sort out homelessness,” she said.
Unlike mainstream refuges, Ms. Robinson said Jean’s Place was flexible with taking in older children.
“In the past, a lot of women have had to stay home because they could not get their boy in a crisis service [due to] their age, or they would leave the older boy at home. We took [boys] up to the age of 17 years … a lot of these big services do not do that, the cut off age is 12 or 14,” said Ms Robinson.
Under the Going Home and Staying Home reform, mainstream providers such as St. Vincent De Paul and Mission Australia will take over specialist women’s services. Ms Robinson said women would fall through the cracks in a system that is already “overloaded.”
“A lot of the women are really shocked that this is happening … I think it’s a very sad time for all women and children.”
In the Eastern suburbs, the only women’s-only refuge was also forced to close down last week. Since 1989, the Killara Women’s and Children’s Refuge has assisted over 500 women and children every year. Manager Phyllis Mason said there was no longer a crisis service available in the Eastern suburbs for women escaping domestic violence.
She said that the government has “put a knife through the whole sector,” as it will force women to stay in abusive relationships.
“Taking away the accommodation services where a woman can feel safe is just lessening their chance of getting out of the cycle of violence,” said Ms. Mason.
She said it was concerning that big charities will overtake specialist services, because women will get lost in the system.
“If that’s all that’s offered then I don’t believe women will access those mainstream services. I think we will find more and more women staying home … They are minimizing the amount of safe places these women are going to have,” Ms. Mason added.
“People in the community are up in arms, but we can’t do anything about it. I’m just hoping that St Vincent de Paul, which has got a history of providing accommodation services for women escaping domestic violence, will maintain the specialty of this place … a lot of the women are really shocked that this is happening.”
Students at UTS have called for others to take action against the Going Home and Staying Home reform. Drew Henderson from RU4MyChoice said the NSW government was failing to meet the needs of vulnerable women and children.
“This issue is particularly of importance as youth homelessness rates are rising, women’s incarceration rates are rising [and] mental health issues are rising,” Henderson said.
“The women and girls who use these services are often badly represented. I think that as a student body we can work on behalf of them to hinder the continual disregard they are subjected to, and work to support the services which for 40 years have done all they can to help those in need,” she said.
Amy Knox, the NSW Women’s Officer for the National Union of Students, agrees that it is important for students to take action.
“All students should be aware of the safety nets around them if they do get caught in a situation where they are unable to return home or to return to a partner, and they should be aware when these safety nets are under threat,” said Ms. Knox.
Students can get involved by emailing Jillian Skinner (the Minister for Health), Gabrielle Upton (the Minister for Family and Community Services), Jai Rowell (the Minster for Mental Health and the assistant Minister of Health), and the NSW Premier, Mike Baird.
For more information visit: soswomensservices.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out about cross-campus meetings that are taking action against the reforms.
Featured image via The Guardian