How big your brave is: escaping family violence to homelessness

11 August 2017

Samantha Hayes

Samantha is a Tenancy Assistant with YWCA Canberra's Housing Support Unit

Canberra seems poised, positioned and ready to tackle domestic and family violence. Last year, the ACT government announced the Safer Families Package, worth $21.42 million dollars over four years, which to date has provided greater support to victims with enhanced frontline services and immediate financial support to those trying to escape family violence.

In the 2017/2018 ACT Budget, the ACT Government reaffirmed its commitment to addressing domestic violence by continuing funding for the Safer Families Package, with the announcement that the Family Safety Hub will now link up existing family violence services to provide a more holistic and integrated response for women experiencing violence. This is a necessary initiative that will benefit women, allowing them to access required services in a complex system.

However, as keen as we all are to address the issue and help victims, in reality the situation is not getting better quick enough. It is extremely hard for women to leave a dangerous situation and even with the best supports, it’s dangerous, exhausting, demoralizing and frustrating. All women who take the step to leave a violent partner or family member are incredibly brave.

Finding a safe place to go to in Canberra is one of the most difficult parts of the journey. The average cost of a one bedroom rental apartment outside of a city centre is $708.23 per fortnight while the payment for a single person on Newstart unemployment allowance is $535.60 per fortnight. A person over 65 or on a disability pension is a little better off at $888.30 per fortnight, but it leaves little money to cover the cost of groceries, travel, utilities and medical bills.

Unfortunately, government housing support is not enough to help all women escaping family violence, the waiting list for priority housing (the most urgent housing category) with Housing ACT is an average of 346 days.

Even in the best circumstances, if the person escaping violence does work, it is difficult for them to source a rental, go to view properties, and produce references and rental history while living with someone who is controlling bank accounts and time spent away from the house.

Victims often find themselves highly monitored. There are many GPS phone tracking apps that can be put onto phones and tiny tracking devices can be easily bought online. Women are often not allowed to have their own vehicle, not allowed to learn to drive, not allowed to contact their family or friends, and documents such as passports and birth certificates held ransom.

Women who have their identity withheld from them can’t apply for a rental property, for a driver’s license or their own bank account. A real-life example of how this loss of identity can frustrate someone leaving abuse, is a woman who left her partner but the vehicle she drove was not registered in her name. The vehicle was reported as stolen and returned to her ex-partner leaving her without even her car to sleep in.

Isolation is a common theme of abuse against women. Removing women from their family supports makes seeking a safe place to stay almost impossible. Increasingly, YWCA Canberra’s Housing Support Unit is supporting women from other countries marrying Australian citizens for what they imagine will be a better life. When they come to Australia they have no family, they discover their partners may be unemployed, have unsuitable living conditions, and debts. They are not able to speak English, and are unable to read or know who to ask for help.

The YWCA Canberra Housing Support Unit helps women escape domestic and family violence through our outreach service, crisis accommodation, and affordable shared housing for older women.

Our shared housing for women over 45 is affordable, with large rooms with ensuites, costing less than $400 a fortnight which includes the cost of utilities. Our properties are full and we are constantly getting enquiries around availability.

Women living in the houses have let us know they feel safe and enjoy being with other women. The model has proven popular and successful, with women making lasting friendships. Some women have moved on to their own home or transitioned to Housing ACT properties. Many of the women under 65 in the share houses have started working again, while the women over 65 enjoy having the comfort of having others around them.

Looking forward, YWCA Canberra Housing Support Unit plan on expanding our affordable housing model, to be able to provide housing for single women of any age as well as mothers with young children who are escaping family and domestic violence.

We are ready to help the brave.

YWCA Canberra will continue to work with leaders across all sectors to ensure greater availability of affordable housing stock in Canberra. A commitment to providing affordable and appropriate housing for all Canberrans is vital.

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The ACT Government has announced a consultation process in the lead up to the Housing Affordability Summit in October, and it is crucial that women’s voices are heard through this process. We encourage you to get involved in the process of shaping a more inclusive and realistic housing strategy for the ACT. You can download the discussion paper, Towards a new Housing Strategy, find out more and add your voice here.

Over the next few weeks, we will launch a new publication, Y- Action, which will showcase our advocacy work and explore the broader advocacy eco-system of gender equality. To sign up to receive Y-Action and find out how you can add your voice, click here.

If you’d like to know more about the services available through YWCA Canberra’s Housing Support Unit, get in touch at (02) 6185 2000. If you are homeless, or are at risk of homelessness, please contact One Link on 1800 176 468. One Link is the gateway giving access to over 40 individual homelessness services. A phone call to One Link matches you with the help you need.

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