One in two women are turned away, on average, from shelters in NSW. That’s one in every two brave women who have mustered the courage to pack up their lives – and often their children – to finally leave a violent relationship, only to learn she has nowhere to go except to live in her car, turn to the streets, or go back to her abuser.
This week, however, the NSW government announced the largest investment to address domestic violence in the state’s history – a $484.3 million commitment to build 75 new refuges and refurbish existing ones, and a boost of 200 social housing dwellings. It will also cover a trial in two districts to provide dedicated support for unaccompanied children and young people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
This, at last, has the potential to save lives.
And it is powerful because it acknowledges the need for domestic violence specialists to meet the needs of victim-survivors. As the renowned Canadian family therapist Dr Allan Wade says: “You wouldn’t have just anyone perform a life-saving heart surgery; you’d employ a trained specialist.”
In 2014, under the problematic reforms of the Going Home Staying Home program, refuges changed management and were placed in the hands of organisations with limited experience. There was a significant reduction in specialist domestic violence services. Specialist workers with decades of experience, burnt out and tired of feeling devalued, left their jobs. Refuge managers were afraid to speak out, fearing even more budget cuts. The strongest advocates for vulnerable women – and their voices – were taken away.
In Australia, 7690 women a year are returning to perpetrators because they have nowhere affordable to live. Even if a woman manages to get a refuge bed, where does she go after that?
This week’s announcement certainly redresses those setbacks. However, it addresses only a fraction of the housing problem. We welcome the 200 extra homes for social housing, but Domestic Violence NSW will continue calling, until we are hoarse, for 5000 new houses a year for the next 10 years to address the shortfall.
As a peak body representing more than 120 services across the state, DVNSW has witnessed the excitement that has followed the announcement, but has also fielded the questions: Where will the funding go? Which towns will get refuges? Will they be specialist? Will the sector be consulted?