COALITION FOR WOMEN’S REFUGES STATEMENT OF PURPOSE
In 2014 the NSW Government introduced Going Home Staying Home (GHSH), a homeless reform package. The reform involved existing homelessness service providers, undertaking a prequalification stage to qualify to enter a select tender process. All of the women’s services that went through the prequalification stage qualified and were invited to tender.
At the time approximately 100 women’s specialist services were funded under the NSW government homelessness program. Women’s services assist women who have experienced domestic and other forms of violence, childhood abuse and neglect, mental illness and drug and alcohol problems. Domestic violence refuges assist women and their children by responding to crisis, preventing violence and supporting longer term needs.
Women’s services don’t only provide accommodation. They provide a range of assistance including specialist information, support and programs for both, women and children, safety planning, material aid, court support, counselling, longer term accommodation, outreach and many other services. Women’s services integrate service provision by assisting women to navigate the diverse government and non-government services they require including the police, legal assistance, courts, Centrelink, child care and health services. They operate from a specific philosophy of women’s right to safety and support. They provide a specialised response to domestic violence and other related issues, focussed on women’s right to safety and self-determination, rather than a generalised response to homelessness.
Many of the women’s services had been established during the second wave of feminism and had been operating for 20-40 years. Their original establishment was achieved predominantly through local women identifying the need and volunteering sometimes for years to operate the services until funding could be achieved. Since that time women’s services further developed their specialist expertise, service provision and networks, with many becoming local service and resource hubs to meet the needs of women escaping violence or with other related needs.
The tender packages that invitees received consisted of large districts, many of them with multiple services and multiple target groups included. This made it impossible for most specialist women’s organisations to participate equally in the tender process. Unlike the charities, few had organisational experience in delivering services to multiple target groups, like single men, or youth. Most of the women’s services were small, specialist women’s services under community management. Of those that did participate in the tender, few were successful. The result was a loss of approximately 80 specialist women’s services mainly to large charities.
During and after this disastrous outcome there was little or no advocacy from domestic violence peaks or the homelessness peaks. Women’s services were in fact directed by their NSW peak not to speak up. Eventually outside organisations and individuals started to demand answers. Most information came via social media and mainstream media and meetings and actions followed this. Efforts to give the public a full picture of what had occurred and the consequences were stymied when media contacted the domestic violence peak that repeatedly told journalists that there were no issues or problems and gave their support to the reforms and the enormous loss of independent specialist women’s refuges and services.
Under the Going Home Staying Home reforms there are fewer specialist services available to women who have experienced violence and related issues. Even prior to the Going Home Staying Home process there was a shortage of services and supports for women who had experienced violence and with other needs. In fact for over a decade prior to the GHSH reforms government commissioned data showed that 1 in 2 women escaping domestic violence and seeking accommodation at in a women’s refuge were turned away due to lack of capacity. Since Going Home Staying Home the situation has worsened, with some former services not operating, no longer operating with 24-hour access or no longer operating specifically for women escaping violence. There has been a surge in reports of women being unable to access services, in some cases having to return to violent homes.
Many services are now operated as arms of large charities with a general homelessness focus and lower staffing rather than as services with a specific focus on the needs of women escaping domestic violence. There is a loss of the local links related to domestic violence that had been built up over time, as well as a loss of staff expertise.
A year later there have been a small number of wins where funding has been restored to some specialist services, but in the face of the enormous loss it is not enough. The current system is overall less able to meet the needs of women and children who have experienced violence. The organisations, groups and individuals that commenced action in the beginning are still committed to redress the disaster and as a result a meeting was held in June 2015 and the Coalition was formed to strengthen and unify future efforts.
It is widely recognised that Australian governments and the community more generally have not yet adequately addressed issues of domestic and family violence, child abuse and other related issues. Specialist women’s services are vital in responding to these issues. It is inadequate for generalist welfare and homelessness services to respond to these specific issues.
The work of the Coalition is underpinned by the following values:
1. Services for women, with or without children, escaping domestic violence should be provided by women’s organisations with adequate and secure government funding.
2. Services for women escaping domestic violence should be for women only and staffed and run only by women; it is not appropriate to accommodate traumatised women with men given their different needs.
3. Domestic violence is largely a gendered issue. Refuges providing accommodation and support for women and children who have experienced domestic violence require an approach that empowers women and children and is underpinned by feminist principles that recognise the need for equal distribution of privilege and power.
4. Specialist women’s services exist to protect women escaping violence and to nurture their strength and courage as well as empower them to determine and manage their future lives.
5. Access to safe accommodation at a confidential address is the right of all women and children escaping domestic and family violence.
6. Access to specialist staff, in-house counselling and tailored support is the right of all women and children who have been forced to leave their homes and seek refuge after experiencing domestic violence and/or sexual assault.
7. Women have the right to physical, financial and emotional autonomy, whether in a relationship or not.
8. The Coalition’s positions and goals will continue to be grounded in the expressed needs and concerns of women and children affected by family, domestic and gendered violence.
9. When the Coalition speaks about women, we do so recognising our diverse experiences. Women have the right to specialised services that respect our diversity, including services run by and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and transgender women.
This Coalition of feminist organisations and individuals will campaign to reinstate, strengthen and expand women’s only specialist service in NSW following the closure or absorption into larger organisations of 80 women’s specialist services as a result of the NSW government’s 2014 Going Home Staying Home reforms. In recognition of the inadequate advocacy of peak organisations, the Coalition will provide political representation and advocacy to achieve the agreed goals and to highlight emerging issues and the ongoing consequences of the Going Home Staying Home reforms.
1. Specialist domestic violence women’s refuges, run by women for women and their children, accessible 24/7, refunded and reinstated to meet and reflect real need throughout NSW.
2. Women’s refuges to return to community based management, as local women are in the best position to identify and respond quickly to the needs of their communities.
3. Government funding of women’s refuges to be allocated separately from funding for the general homelessness program.
4. An immediate, independent review of services funded under GHSH reforms.
1. To advocate to the Commonwealth for funding for women’s services including women’s domestic violence refuges to be significantly expanded and located within a government department dedicated to the prevention of domestic violence, not simply homelessness.
2. To lobby the NSW Government for recurrent funding for women’s services, including those that were unsuccessful in the tender process, but received funding until 2017 under the Service Support Fund.
3. To advocate for the 20 women’s refuges that have survived the GHSH tender process to be allocated funding directly without a tender process.
4. To invite those surviving women’s services that were unsuccessful in the 2014 tender process to re-tender in the 2017 tender process.
5. To continue to highlight the devastating effects of the GHSH reforms on women’s access to specialist services and expert staff in NSW.
6. To advocate and lobby both the state and commonwealth governments to rebuild and restore women’s specialist domestic violence services and other women’s services dealing with mental health, drug and alcohol addiction etc. in NSW.
7. To build women’s confidence and capacity to fight for women’s refuges.
The Coalition shall meet regularly and provide updates on emerging issues, organise actions and progress the goals.
The Coalition will develop strategies and timelines for action to maximise member participation and impact. The Coalition will develop campaign strategies and appoint members to speak publicly on-behalf of the Coalition.
Membership of the Coalition is open to all organisations and individuals who agree with the purpose and goals of the Coalition.