THREE Great Lakes Councillors will meet with State Member for Myall Lakes Stephen Bromhead next week to discuss their concerns about the state government’s Going Home, Staying Home reforms.
Councillor Leigh Vaughan tabled a notice of motion at last Tuesday’s ordinary meeting urging council to call on NSW Premier Mike Baird to address concerns over funding cuts and the closure of women’s and children’s refuges in NSW.
The motion, which was supported by councillor Jim Morwitch and Great Lakes mayor Jan McWilliams, requested that council call on Mr Baird to immediately reinstate funding to women’s and children’s refuges and to adequately fund the refuges to reduce the current turn away rate.
"Personally, I am very disturbed that the policy is titled Going Home, Staying Home."Great Lakes Councillor Jim Morwitch
It also asked that the state government release all documentation relating to the decision making process to substantiate their claims that there will be no losses to pre-existing women’s and children’s domestic violence refuges.
The NSW government recently began reforming specialist homelessness services (SHS) through its Going Home, Staying Home program.
Under the policy, 336 individual services have been consolidated into 149 packages operated by 69 non-government organisations.
Instead of direct funding being provided to small organisations, they are now required to compete with larger organisations by tendering to retain their funding and services.
While some services have decided to close their doors after decades, others will continue to operate under the management of new generalist providers such as St Vincent de Paul.
As there is currently no women’s refuge in the Great Lakes, women and children escaping domestic violence are forced to travel to the Women’s and Children’s refuge in Taree, previously operated by Manning District Emergency Accommodation (MDEA).
But as of last month, the MDEA discovered that they had lost the tender for the Taree refuge to the Samaritians Foundation.
As a result the Taree refuge will be obliged to provide accommodation for homeless men and women as well as women and children escaping domestic violence.
Councillor Leigh Vaughan said her biggest concern is that women and children escaping violent situations, who are often vulnerable and traumatised, are not adequately provided for under the new reforms.
“Going Home Staying Home focuses on homelessness for men and women,” Councillor Vaughan said.
“My understanding is that there is no recognition of women-only services.
“Women escaping domestic violence cannot be classed as homeless as technically they have a home to go to.
“Women in distress must get themselves to Taree if they can and if there is a room there, which often there is not.”
Councillor Jim Mortwitch agrees and says it is “hardly appropriate” for women to be classed in the same category.
“I will be specifically asking what finance, facilities and expert support services will be available in the Great Lakes,” Councillor Morwich stated.
“Personally, I am very disturbed that the policy is titled Going Home, Staying Home. This hardly suggests that women and children suffering domestic violence will be cared for in appropriate facilities and with expert support services.
“Documentation focuses primarily on homeless people and even if domestic violence victims fall within this definition, the implication appears to be that facilities will be for men and women – hardly appropriate for women and children in fear of men’s behaviour.”
Sydney Morning Herald journalist Anne Summers detailed this issue in her weekend column “NSW government closes doors to women fleeing violence” where she pointed out the closures of several women’s refuges in Sydney in recent months.
“Even where refuges will stay open and keep their old names many will change - in staffing, in function and in character.”
“In places like Eden, Bega, Moruya, Kempsey, Armidale, the Blue Mountains, Wyong, Wagga Wagga, Tumut, Wollongong where they did not win tenders, refuges have either already closed or are contemplating their bleak future.”
Councillors Leigh Vaughan, Jim Morwitch and Great Lakes mayor Jan McWilliams will meet with Mr Bromhead on Friday August 8 to seek clarification about the facts of the reforms and what services will be available locally for women and children.
The Samaritans Foundation responds
THE Samaritans Foundation issued a statement yesterday about its takeover of the Women’s and Children’s Refuge in Taree.
The foundation was the successful tender of the refuge under the NSW government’s Going Home Staying Home reforms.
The Foundation’s director of community services Rob Dawson said the changeover means the model of service support has altered.
“Samaritans is working within the provided guidelines from the NSW Department of Community Services,” he said.
“Samaritans has been working on the Mid North Coast for over 15 years and was recently announced as the agency to provide a range of homelessness services.”
Mr Dawson said the program will include a crisis service for women experiencing homelessness and domestic violence and will include a women-only refuge run by female Samaritans staff.
There will be a service hub to support other locals experiencing homelessness including men, women, families and Indigenous Australians.
The hub will offer information, referral and crisis support and will include access to low-cost accommodation properties to further support people in need coming to the centre.
Mr Dawson said the service structure responds directly to what the new reforms have prescribed.
“Samaritans will seek to work with the community and other organisations to meet any gaps and needs that might be identified in the future,” he said.
“Samaritans is an experienced local provider and their work aligns closely with its values of compassion, integrity and justice.”