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Lower Hunter organisations join forces to improve region’s domestic violence services

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Seven Lower Hunter organisations have joined forces in a bid to improve specialist domestic and family violence services in the region.

With the NSW Election just weeks away, Jenny’s Place, Nova for Women and Children, Carrie’s Place, Port Stephens Family and Neighbourhood Service, Newcastle Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service, Family Support Newcastle and Got Your Back Sista believe now is the time to proclaim their collective case.

They’re calling on all state candidates in the electorates of Newcastle, Charlestown, Swansea, Wallsend, Lake Macquarie, Maitland and Port Stephens to commit to three major priorities.

The main areas of concern include temporary accommodation; property and land audit; and state and federal government collaboration and coordination.

“We believe they’ll enhance the rights of women and children in our region to access safe housing and to live free from domestic and family violence (DFV),” Newcastle Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service manager Suellyn Moore said.

“In the next fortnight, we’ll meet with candidates across our electorates asking them to commit to our three priorities,” Carrie’s Place CEO Jayne Clowes said.

“As DFV specialist organisations, we expect they’ll respect and act on our recommendations.”

PRIORITIES

Temporary Accommodation

Temporary Accommodation is where a woman (often with children) is unable to secure crisis accommodation in a refuge, so they are funded to stay very short-term in a motel, hotel, caravan, or hostel etc.

But, it has a cap on both the funding and the maximum number of days.

Temporary Accommodation is not always safe… and it is never a long-term solution.

Women must meet certain criteria to be approved for Temporary Accommodation by the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ).

“Regardless of who is elected into government (on 25 March), urgent action has to occur to prevent women and children victim-survivors of DFV from also experiencing systemic abuse as they navigate the state government’s under-funded, inflexible Temporary Accommodation system, and struggle to meet the required redundant criteria,” Nova for Women and Children CEO Kelly Hansen said.

“We are already living in a housing emergency as well as a financial crisis,” Port Stephens Family and Neighbourhood Services assistant manager Ann Fletcher explained.

“On top of that, domestic and family violence assaults across our electorates continue to increase.

“Link2Home is meant to support already traumatised women and children to access safe accommodation, but the system is failing them.”

“Even when women and children are approved for Temporary Accommodation, they can struggle to access support from DFV services because there are not enough case workers to support them,” Got Your Back Sista CEO Melissa Histon revealed.

DFV services are calling for:

  • An extension of the Temporary Accommodation budget to meet the demand for women and children victim-survivors of DFV seeking shelter and safety.

DFV services are requesting, at a minimum, that Temporary Accommodation funding be doubled.

  • Extension of the 28 days available for Temporary Accommodation.

DFV services are requesting the number of days available be flexible to meet the needs of the client and to recognise the impact of the housing crisis, instead of limiting TA to a prescribed number of days.

  • The removal of unreasonable criteria for DFV victims-survivors.

DFV services are requesting the removal of the requirement for DFV victims-survivors to complete a rental diary. This requirement is cruel, unrealistic and a system abuse of those seeking assistance.

DFV services are requesting approval criteria for Rentstart Bond Loan be amended so that if a woman obtains a rental property she is promptly supported to move out of inadequate temporary or unsafe accommodation.

DFV services are requesting the state government immediately explore options for buildings and spaces to be retrofitted to operate as Temporary Accommodation

Property and Land Audit

“Every DFV refuge in our region is at capacity, rental properties are non-existent or unaffordable,” Family Support Newcastle CEO Sue Hellier said.

“We know there are women living in their cars, sleeping on a friend’s couch, or returning to a perpetrator.”

“We need to secure alternative, safe, accessible accommodation for women and children experiencing DFV now,” Jenny’s Place executive manager Marcia Chapman added.

“This needs to be driven by the state government, in partnership with their local and federal counterparts and domestic violence and homelessness services.

“An immediate urgent response is the only acceptable response.”

DFV services are calling for:

  • An audit of all state government-owned and managed properties (residential, commercial, office buildings) in the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Port Stephens LGAs that can be retrofitted for safe, short term accommodation. The audit is to include a budget and plan to retrofit suitable buildings. The audit, budget and plan are to be completed within three-to-six months of the 2023 NSW Election.
  • An audit of all state government-owned and managed land in the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Port Stephens LGAs that can be released for the purpose of building permanent and/or temporary social housing for DFV victims-survivors. The audit is to be completed within two months of the 2023 NSW Election.
  • An audit of DCJ owned/managed social housing properties in the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Port Stephens LGAs to identify unused/empty stock, evaluate repairs needed, and develop budget and timeframe for repairs. The audit, budget, and repair schedule are to be completed within three-to-six months of the 2023 NSW Election.
  • An audit of tenant occupancy of DCJ and Community Housing social housing properties in the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Port Stephens LGAs to ensure, where safe, ethical, practical, and without causing trauma to tenants, that multi-bedroom properties are either already housing or are available to house families, and single bedroom properties are already housing or are available to house tenants who only require one bedroom. The audit is to be completed within three-to-six months of the 2023 NSW Election.

State and Federal Government collaboration and coordination

DFV services are calling for:

  • State and federal government DFV ministers and departments work together to coordinate DFV planning, projects, funding agreements and announcements to avoid duplication, confusion, and to best utilise funding.

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