Bega Women's Refuge service not closing Friday: Mission

RELATED COVERAGE

MISSION Australia is assuring the community women fleeing domestic violence will be supported, regardless of recent changes announced by the State Government.

Mission was recently announced as the successful tenderer for the Bega Valley Homelessness Support Service, causing anxiety in the Bega Valley that women’s only services such as refuges in Bega and Eden would be under threat of closing.

The refuges were previously managed by the South East Women and Children Service (SEWACS), however that arrangement officially came to an end on Thursday, with a transition period expected to take place over the next month or two.

SEWACS recently announced around 10 staff were being laid off and the Eden refuge was closing down (BDN, 18/7).

There was also concern for the future of the Bega Women’s Refuge, with reports women were being turned away as support could not be guaranteed through the transition of management.

Gabrielle Powell from the Bega Women’s Resource Centre raised concerns whether the refuges would continue after this week – whether as women-only services, or at all.

As the government has made it clear that women’s-only services will continue, the delivery of this service will definitely be part of the final agreement. - Mission Australia regional leader Cheryl O'Donnell

“This service was established in the early 1980s by local concerned women who opened their homes to women escaping domestic violence and provided safe haven for many years until the refuge building and funding was secured,” Ms Powell said in an open letter to Member for Bega Andrew Constance and NSW Shadow Minister for Housing and Shadow Minister assisting Women Sophie Cotsis. 

“As a community member I am very concerned that women and children who need to stay safe in the Bega Valley won't have a specialist refuge to support them.

“Ten specialist staff from SEWACS have lost their employment and the Bega Valley loses expert and experienced staff that know how to deal with domestic violence issues,” she said.

However, Mission Australia regional leader Cheryl O’Donnell said the organisation, as the incoming service manager, had every intention of continuing services – including women-only services.

“When the government announced outcomes of Going Home Staying Home tenders, a transition period was announced to ensure a smooth transition from existing providers to new providers in a way that services would be able to continue and clients would be able to get the support they need throughout this time,” Ms O’Donnell said in response to BDN inquiries.

Ms O’Donnell said the transition period begins on Friday and runs until October 31, with existing providers and new providers “funded to work together to ensure continuity of service provision”.

“Given these transitional arrangements, it is not true to suggest this service is closing on Friday,” she said.

“There will still be staff working, both from the existing provider and from Mission Australia, through the transitional period to provide specialised support for women in need.

“While SEWACS has chosen to make some staff redundant and not continue services as they currently stand throughout the transition period, the arrangements we have put in place as the incoming provider will ensure that any women seeking assistance will receive support.”

Ms O’Donnell said Mission Australia is still in negotiations with the Department of Family and Community Services about the service agreements for all homeless programs it has been awarded in this region.

“However, as the government has made it clear that women’s-only services will continue, the delivery of this service will definitely be part of the final agreement,” she added.

“We have staff with extensive experience of working with women who are fleeing domestic violence.

“They have domestic violence training, access to domestic violence specialists within the organisation, experience working with domestic violence liaison officers and have been involved in domestic violence forums within the region.

“Final staffing arrangements under the new agreements including opportunities for recruitment will be determined once negotiations with the department are completed.”

* A gathering of those concerned with the transition of services and the loss of staff is planned for Monday out the front of the Bega Women’s Refuge in Gipps St from 12.30pm.

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