Bendigo refuge overlooked

OVERLOOKED: A Bendigo refuge which has been in the pipeline since 2009 is unlikely to be funded in today's State Budget.

OVERLOOKED: A Bendigo refuge which has been in the pipeline since 2009 is unlikely to be funded in today's State Budget.

A REFUGE for women and children fleeing violence, which has been in the pipeline for five years, is unlikely to be funded in the State Budget.

The state government owns a large parcel of land in Bendigo that has been set aside for the development since a feasibility study was done in 2011, but Annie North Women’s Refuge is still waiting for capital funding to build the facility.

The proposal made it to the budget estimates stage for the first time this year, but despite the number of deaths relating to family violence increasing, the project has again been bumped by other priorities.

Annie North chief executive Julie Oberin said the organisation, which has one high-security refuge that accommodates three families on any given night and eight other properties, was at capacity every night and turning women and children away.

 “How many more women and children have to die?’’ she said.  “We are deeply disappointed.

“Given the high profile of the domestic murders of women and children recently … it shows how dangerous it is for these women and children.

“While it’s really important to raise community awareness and try and prevent it from happening, it’s absolutely critical that when these women have to leave that they have the right supports in place to help with the risk because it’s the most unsafe time for them, which is proven.

“It’s really important to do prevention work, it’s really important to do community awareness but you’ve got to increase your supports when women are in help-seeking mode, if you’re going to trigger them to seek help you’ve got to have the services for them.’’

The cluster would be a tastefully-designed walled community with seven self-contained units and room to extend. Two units will be joined, allowing them to be opened up to accommodate large families when needed.

The facility will also include counselling rooms, group work rooms, training rooms and a computer room.

The computer room will not only allow Annie North to help children who have missed schooling, but also “help women themselves skill up a bit so they feel a bit more confident to re- enter the workforce, or to enter the work force or to go back and do training or study’’.

“Often they’re either told they’re too stupid to do things like that or it’s not safe for them to do - so if we can bring that in while they’re working through other issues, that’s quite empowering and helps them get ready to become a little bit more independent,’’ Ms Oberin said. "Years of abuse can really erode women’s self-confidence.''

A sound proof room will also allow for court hearings, so some women and children do not have to go to court and face their abuser.

Ms Oberin said all women seeking refuge were given risk assessments and safety plans were put in place.

“Some may come and are really high risk so they stay in high security refuge until we can assess what he is going to do or the court and police deal with him, or she may need to relocate somewhere safer,’’ she said.

“There are others where the court or police are dealing with him and he’s actually going to abide by the court orders, but you can’t tell that for a while.

“If he’s going to abide by the sanctions of the court, then it’s safer for her to start to move out into the community a little bit and start to live a bit more of a normal life.

“We try to minimise the amount of shifts the family has to do to avoid disrupting the schooling for children.’’

Most of the referrals to refuges across the state come from the Melbourne-based Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service, but every refuge is at capacity.

 “They put women in motels, with the Good Samaritan Sisters in Melbourne, and they’ve got interim refuge accommodation where some women are in there for weeks trying to get into a refuge … imagine what that’s like when you’ve got little kids.

“People say why does she go back – well you’ve got a hotel with little kids for a few nights, with no proper cooking facilities or laundry facilities and no back yard for the kids to run around in – and that’s that same time where he says he is sorry.’’

National data says that on any given day, one in two people are turned away who are seeking support and accommodation and most of those people are women and children who have experience domestic violence.  

“Women and children deserve to have the best facilities that you can give them, having to share facilities is no longer acceptable, they need these self-contained apartments, with their own bathrooms, their own kitchens, their own autonomy and they need these other facilities because whilst it’s risky for them, until you have established how much risk he’s going to be then you’ve got to bring services into them rather than expect them to go out into a dangerous situation.’’

 “I’ve been living and working for this for years and years and years and then every year goes by and there’s always some other priority.

“How many more kids and women have got to die – if you can’t do it this year, when can you do it?’’

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