No refuge for women in the Bega Valley

RELATED COVERAGE

WOMEN fleeing domestic violence are being turned away from support services as Bega Valley refuges close their doors or downsize staff.

With the recent State Government funding announcement on Specialist Homelessness Services and the tender win in the Bega Valley by Mission Australia, concerns were immediately raised over the future of the local women’s refuges.

The refuge was formerly managed by South East Women and Children’s Services (SEWACS), but it is now being transitioned to new management under Mission, which got $674,500 in SHS funding to facilitate the Bega Valley Homelessness Support Service with its tender partner Richmond PRA.

However, whether the Bega premises remains as a specific refuge for women experiencing domestic violence, or a more general service for homelessness, is unclear according to those close to its day-to-day running.

The Eden refuge has already closed its doors, announcing this week it can’t continue under the changed funding model (see story below).

While SEWACS preferred not to comment on the future of Bega’s facility while related negotiations are still underway, Gabrielle Powell from Bega’s Women’s Resource Centre said the situation is dire.

“One woman called me yesterday, she had fled from Nowra, turned up in Bega and rung the refuge only to be told they are in a transition stage, laying off staff and couldn’t guarantee her safety,” Ms Powell told the BDN on Wednesday.

She had also heard through a contact another two women had attempted to find refuge in Queanbeyan, Wollongong, Nowra, Moruya and Bega – only to be told the same thing.

“This is not just here – this is the story of the state.

“Only two refuges are active in all of NSW and they are both at capacity,” Ms Powell said.

“They rang the domestic violence hotline and were told there might be one bed available at a refuge in Darwin!

“Women and children are calling us for help and as workers we’re traumatised as we have lost the network of services we can refer them to.”

The new “Going Home, Staying Home” State Government reforms come in to effect on August 1, but the situation until then – and even beyond – is “all up in the air”.

“We need, as service providers, these details in order to offer services to these traumatised women,” Ms Powell said.

Mission 'committed to ongoing support'

MISSION Australia regional leader for South East NSW Cheryl O’Donnell said negotiations are underway to ensure the provision of services can continue.

“The Department [Family and Community Services] are continuing to negotiate details of service delivery for Bega and start dates that we’re able to begin this service,” Ms O’Donnell said.

“We are committed to making sure people receive the support they need, and we are engaging with local organisations to ensure that any individual who requires support is not left unassisted.

“Our priority is the people in the community who we will support, so we will be working closely and collaboratively with local organisations to provide ongoing support and care to ensure people who are currently accessing homeless services are supported during the transition period.”

Ms O’Donnell said Mission has been working in the Bega area for a number of years, including its Community Connections homelessness program that has been operating for three-and-a-half years.

“During this time, our local staff have been able to support men, women and families in the area who were homeless into long-term housing, and support a large number of people at risk of homelessness to sustain their tenancies and prevent them from becoming homeless.”

Eden women's refuge closes doors

The following report was submitted by SEWACS Eden. If you know more, please email the editor at ben.smyth@fairfaxmedia.com.au

THE doors of Eden South East Women and Children’s Services (SEWACS) will close at the end of this month.

Eden SEWACS has operated a family and domestic violence program in Eden for the last seven years.

Recent reforms of the Specialist Homelessness Service sector - Going Home Staying Home - have resulted in the loss of the specific local domestic and family violence service for women and children in the Bega Valley.

Instead, the Bega Valley will have a broad homelessness service for men, families and young people, as well as women and children escaping domestic and family violence.

Mission Australia has been selected as the preferred provider under the new Bega Valley Homelessness Support Service.

“It is difficult to try to conceptualise how these reforms will not have an adverse effect on the safety of women and children and their access to the right help, in the right place, by the right staff at the right time,” Kath Musgrove, program manager of Eden SEWACS, said.

“It is a devastating blow for the Eden community.

“Eden SEWACS has provided a safe and supportive environment for women and children in the community, especially those with violence and/or homelessness in their lives.

“Domestic violence is the major cause of homelessness for women and children, and requires a specific, specialised response.

“For women living in domestic violence, reaching out for help and support can be very difficult and might bring a lot of shame and denial.

“Women need a very sensitive, trusted service and the workers need specialist skills to help navigate and support women and children through their recovery.

“SEWACS has held that trust right across our community with people from all cultural backgrounds.”

Eden SEWACS will be having a farewell lunch at the premises at 157 Imlay St on July 23 at noon.

All women and children who have been clients of Eden SEWACS over the years and all community service providers are welcome to attend.

If you need support or assistance, call the Domestic Violence Line on 1800 656 463, or Link2Home (NSW Homelessness Line) on 1800 152 152.

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