AS part of the Great Lakes Advocate’s recent investigation into homelessness we learned that 50 per cent of women and children seeking homeless assistance in Australia are escaping domestic violence.
With the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics revealing that the Great Lakes region ranks 18th of 140 local government areas for instances of domestic violence it should come as no surprise that these figures are reflected locally.
“We conducted a survey in March last year and over a three week period we processed 705 claims and more than 60 families sought to access our programs,” Forster Neighbourhood Centre Manager Trish Wallace explains.
“Fifty per cent of all applicants were single women with children, many of them escaping abusive homes.”
Other damning national statistics show that one in three women over 15 will experience physical violence at some stage and one in five women over 15 will experience sexual violence.
However, what is perhaps most telling is that one in every two women who approach services for escaping domestic violence are turned away due to lack of accommodation or lack of resources.
The Forster Neighbourhood Centre currently runs ‘women’s shed’ support programs and refers to the women’s refuge in Taree but states that their ultimate goal is to have a permanent facility in Forster.
This is something Great Lakes Rotary Club member Keith Bastian wants to bring about.
“We need a purpose built secure facility that provides crisis accommodation and support for women and children escaping domestic violence,” Mr Bastian says.
Both Ms Wallace and Mr Bastian say that approaches to government have thus far proven unsuccessful and Mr Bastian believes that the ultimate goal of a permanent women’s refuge will have to come from within the community.
“I’ve approached Stephen Bromhead, (minister for women) Pru Goward, DOCS to see what funding is available and there’s very little. The response is always the same, it’s a great idea but there’s just no money,” Mr Bastian said.
“It’s always the same with these things, it requires a long-term community effort, that’s when things get done. Taree has a women’s refuge that is the result of a great deal of community effort over many, many years.”
Great Lakes Rotary Club supports the project and Mr Bastian has begun addressing other community groups with the aim of forming a working committee to manage the effort.
“We need to get a good committee together to coordinate the whole effort, and to tap into all sources of support we can.”
Mr Bastian doesn’t mince words when it comes to the level of funding required.
“We’re looking in the vicinity of over a million dollars. This facility would be a specialist, secure facility with trained and qualified staff of professional people. We’d need to raise both the establishment and ongoing operating costs. It’s a big job and it requires long-term commitment.”
A committee is yet to be formed with Mr Bastian acting as liaison officer for the establishment process. He can be contacted on 0432 377 986.
For information or support with local domestic violence programs call the Forster Neighbourhood Centre on 6555 4351 or call the 24-hour Domestic Violence Crisis line on freecall: 1800 629 445.