THE public gallery of Bega Valley Shire Council chambers was packed on Tuesday morning thanks to a visit by NSW Shadow Minister for Housing and Shadow Minister assisting Women, Sophie Cotsis.
Ms Cotsis is visiting Bega, Moruya, Ulladulla and Batemans Bay to hear community concerns about the recent funding outcomes for the NSW Family and Community Services (FACS) Specialist Homelessness Services (SHS) programs.
An overhaul of the system has seen most funding across the state shift from long-term small specialist providers to larger generalist service providers.
In Bega it has meant the South East Women and Children’s Service (SEWACS) did not receive money to continue management of the Bega Women’s Refuge (BDN, 27/6).
The refuge will now be run by Mission Australia, which got $674,500 in SHS funding to facilitate the Bega Valley Homelessness Support Service with its tender partner Richmond PRA.
Service providers and community members from across the Bega Valley voiced their concerns with Ms Cotsis, who is travelling with Labor’s candidate for the Bega electorate, Leanne Atkinson.
“I was initially contacted by Gabrielle Powell from the Southern Women’s Group and learned how much distress the SHS funding has cause in your community,” Ms Cotsis said.
“I’m not here to attack larger providers, but to understand the repercussions the funding decisions are having in local communities.”
At the forum were representatives from SEWACS, Workability, Bega Valley Health Service, Southern NSW Medicare Local, Suicide Prevention Action Network (SPAN), Local Aboriginal Land Council, Bega Valley Shire Council and many domestic violence support and community health workers.
Many in the room expressed dismay at the funding outcomes and are worried Bega’s refuge will become a general homeless shelter where women and children leaving domestic violence will feel unsafe.
Cheryl Nelson, executive officer at SEWACS, confirmed management of the refuge would be transitioning to Mission Australia in the next three months.
She said discussions with Mission Australia to outsource the running of the refuge to SEWACS had been unsuccessful.
Daniel Strickland, area manager of Mission Australia, spoke briefly at the forum.
“We are still in the negotiations phase with FACS about our funding, but it is my understanding that the refuge will not close its doors for women and children and it will remain as is,” he said.
However, his assurances did little to allay fears.
“The Bega refuge is a women’s service run by women with years of experience and training in domestic violence,” one speaker said.
“The new provider may be very skilled, but they don’t get domestic violence and the service provision needed.
“Why can’t these larger providers stand up and lobby State Government and say no to this funding, they should insist it must be given back to specialist providers.”
Ms Atkinson said the blame lay with the current State Government, which did not take into account the “social capital” built up by specialist providers and was only concerned with budget outcomes.
“This tender process has pitted people and services against each other,” she said.
“The process did not take into account the people on the ground in Bega and what they have been doing so well for so many years.
“It also ignored the fact that in rural areas one size does not fit all,” she said.
Ms Cotsis said she would be taking all the issues raised back to NSW Parliament and urged community members to contact Member for Bega Andrew Constance with their concerns.