When women leave dangerous situations, they do so facing enormous risks and extreme danger—often with young children in hand, these vulnerable people need somewhere safe. A sanctuary. Across NSW, women’s shelters have provided a safe place for women for decades.
For women seeking refuge from domestic and family violence situations in the Hunter, there is perhaps no more welcoming a name than “Jenny’s Place”.
Jenny’s Place provides crisis accommodation and support for women who have been victims of domestic and family violence, via information, referral and advocacy for women and their children escaping domestic violence. Jenny’s Place also helps women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness—and all of us in this chamber know just how connected these two things are.
Jenny’s Place is a not for profit community organisation which has been running for almost forty years. Jenny’s place is, in their own words, a “safe and supportive environment to empower women to make informed decisions in their lives.”—and Jenny’s Place works via outreach to connect with the broader community and attempt to address the root causes of domestic violence.
The turn-away rate for the refuge is high and the outreach program is dependant upon donations—and the numbers of people who are turned away has climbed in recent years.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting the people who work at Jenny’s Place over the last few years. I’ve met a team of dedicated, hard-working women who are committed to running a shelter by women for women.
This Government’s “Going Home Staying Home” scheme was poorly designed from the outset precisely because, in many instances, it undermined this basic tenet of the women’s shelter ethos—that these should be safe spaces for women, run by women.
This might have been an attempt at streamlining the system, but the effect of “Going Home Staying Home” has been a handing over of women’s refuges from local communities and women’s organisations to large charities, often church-based, and often to the detriment of the services provided.
No one doubts the good intentions of these charities and their workers but there is no real replacement for institutional knowledge and local understanding.
For instance, according to reports, the Kempsey Women’s Refuge had successfully provided services to victims of domestic and family violence for a quarter of a century with local management, until, as a result of the “Going Home Staying Home”, it was renamed Kempsey Homeless Support Service for Women and was taken over by the Samaritans, based out of Newcastle.
Since then, a number of women have fallen through the cracks as new workers try to fill the holes left by departing staff with long-term experience and a deep awareness of local issues.
I fear that this has been duplicated all over the state, and that great services like the Kempsey Women’s Refuge and Jenny’s Place have been undermined by well-meaning but misguided policy. It is time we had a full and frank discussion about what has happened to women shelters in this state.
It’s time we did something to fix the problem.