Sunny Sydney, feels like home and 4 round tables (that’s a record)

4 November 2016

laura-and-guddyI was met at Sydney airport by family friends of 29 years (thanks Mum). Paul being the man that did cartwheels with me from the age of 6 and I instantly felt at home. Laura Hurstfield is not only a dear family friend but is also a co-ordinator of the Northern Beaches Family Support Service at the Naremburn Family Centre so you can guess who the first roundtable (well more like room full of people) I talked to were.

naremburn-family-centre

We started with a presentation of DAHA and my work and then had a general discussion about issues in Australia where one woman a week is murdered and they all sounded familiar:

  • Lack of funding
  • Lack of coordination of funding and services
  • Harsh competition amongst service providers
  • Government good at sound bites and talking the talk but where is the funding?
  • Lack of Affordable Housing
  • Over reliance on CJS

I then went on to visit another magnificent self-contained shelter the Manly Warringah Women’s Resource centre which has been there 40 years and went from 5 beds to 8 self-contained units which cost $800,000 to renovate and half they raised themselves through private donors. In this day and age it is a travesty that this is what the movement relies on rather than the government who take our taxes in the first place! nsw-homelessness

On Wednesday another roundtable was convened by Homelessness NSW, and there were representatives from NSW Federation of Housing Associations, Domestic Violence NSW, Bridge Housing and Wentworth Community Housing. I was early as always (keen bean that I am) and then got talking to two ladies one of whom was Sue Cripps who had previously done a Winston Churchill Fellowship and promptly showed me a toolkit she has written for housing providers in New South Wales (NSW) using Peabody’s and Gentoo’s work. I cannot tell you what a proud moment that was!

toollkit-nsw

Then we got down to the nitty gritty. I summarised my findings so far focussing on Intersectionality, differing housing programmes and approaches. The ladies and one man in the room soon confirmed these were the same issues in Australia with indigenous women. NSW research shows 21% (so almost a quarter) of women seeking help from homeless services as a result of DV are indigenous women and that 40% of the indigenous people in homeless assistance services are women escaping DV. Institutional racism is a huge problem globally and I do not feel I have done it justice in my blogs so far or that I will be able to in this blog so I am in the process of writing a separate blog on this from a global perspective as this has hit me the hardest as I have travelled around the world.

The group explained there is no legislation on homelessness in Australia and there are some huge gaps in service provisions. Start Safely is a subsidy which provides short to medium term financial help to eligible clients, including those with children, who have experienced domestic or family violence so that they can secure private rental accommodation and do not have to return to the violent situation but the issue is affordability in the first place and some people on centre link (our Job seekers) are not eligible. It was also felt that although there has been a lot of raised awareness as a result of the amazing work of Rosie Batty (who I am meeting in Melbourne next week) the Australian Government talks the talk but does not necessarily walk the walk which I have to say is a global issue.

Reporting of DV has gone up by 2% in the last year (remember not everyone goes to the Police so this is the tip of the iceberg) but no more money has really been added. In fact Community legal services in NSW have been cut by 30% which is backwards. This is different in Melbourne who have got $572 million instead of $300 million in NSW so I am looking forward to going there on 14th as people round the table felt they had got the funding element a bit better there.

The group also told me that 10 years ago under the influence of Ludo McFerran, who I had the privilege of speaking alongside at the Hague at the Global Network of Women’s Shelter, ‘Staying Home, Leaving Violence’ was created under the pretext of why does she have to leave – the perpetrator is the issue? 25 services were set up across NSW to carry out case work, safety assessment and sanctuary etc. So a lot like mobile advocacy and IDVA’s in the UK however although this has been evaluated twice and shown great outcomes it is still under threat from not being funded.

I was also advised of a perpetrator programme called ‘Breathing Space’ in Perth as there has been a shift like in the UK on holding perpetrators accountable and dealing with the cause of the issue male violence. This has raised controversy just like in the UK as the money that was being spent on women’s services is redirected to perpetrators. The age old argument being from all of us to government is add funding do not redirect at the sake of other programmes. This programme has not been evaluated from the start but anecdotally is showing some good outcomes.

Shannon Spriggs-Murdoch has also used Jackson Katz’s work on the Bystander approach in their own version called ‘Mates’ in Brisbane and this is soon to be translated in to the NSW campaign.

The group told me about reform 2 years (2014) ago in NSW to ‘Going Home, Staying Home’ which was a shift from crisis aimed at prevention. The idea being that categories of homeless like youth, women and children and men would all be under homelessness and services would have to go for funding under this generic stream. However this has catastrophic consequences for the women’s sector and specialist services especially in rural areas as the change was so huge that many smaller providers could not create partnerships for joint bids so quickly lost their funding or felt overwhelmed and left positions they had held for 10 years. In the most rural areas where women and children are most isolated this had the most dangerous consequences. No support. The following day at my meeting with Compass Housing I got to hear face to face the impact of this change on frontline services and to say I was horrified is an understatement. Women told me how they were fired over the phone after 20 years of service, services had gagging orders put on them so they were not allowed to talk about their frustrations with Family and Community Services (FACs) or even talk to other agencies in their area. This created a hellish environment and if I am totally honest I was able to witness the palpable frustration and trauma this reform had on professionals in the domestic violence field and beyond. It seems clear to me that FACs quickly realised their mistake and tried to remedy it by providing Domestic Violence Response Enhancements (DVRE) to the now generic services however this money is enough to work with 20 clients out of 500 generic clients who may or may not be dealing with DV. My last visit on Friday was with Link Housing under the amazing leadership of Andrew McAnulty. The staff here were incredible and for the first time I felt I was talking to a real mix of people. By this I mean half of whom are converted and understand the complexities of DV  and half non-converted  who have never had any DV training and therefore can think like the general public asking questions like why doe she not leave instead of asking why does he not stop. The latter group is where I want to be and thrive in this movement as it is where you can do the most good. You could tell by the faces of shock and horror and then that light bulb moment of damn I hadn’t thought of it like that… this always warms my heart!compass-houisng

We all talked about Australia’s national plan which is in phase 3 and like the UK’s VAWG strategy in the UK, until DAHA got involved, there is no mention of housing apart from Shelter. This is why a global coalition is so imperative.

Rapid rehousing as a solution in NSW was quickly abandoned as of the lack of affordable housing and housing first models although demonstrating good outcomes in chronic homelessness are not being funded after this year. Homelessness NSW also advised that with this shift in reform ironically they have found that the focus is even more on crisis instead of prevention which is what they set out to do.

So in summary the main issues are:link-housing

  • Lack of Affordable housing and no funding mechanism to create housing
  • No infrastructure for joined up work
  • No legislation
  • Gender bias in the system
  • Institutional racism
  • Lack of awareness

So what are the answers?

  • Campaigning for affordable housing
  • Raising awareness via conferences, media and meetings with premiers (leaders). Ensure everyone understands the impact, complexities and trauma of Domestic and Family Violence on women and children
  • Stabilise and add to the funding
  • Stop thinking the private market will solve social problems
  • Technical assistance and capacity building as a movement which is what DAHA and consortium in US are doing
  • Dissemination of toolkit for Community Housing Providers
  • Start applying a gendered and poverty lens to our social policies
  • Start talking about a standard of living for the most vulnerable and marginalised in our society
  • Believe shelter and safety is a human right