Inner-city women’s services saved – for now
Last year, Dr Aline Smith shared with SSH readers a speech she gave at a state Parliament House forum against the impending closure of women’s refuges in inner Sydney.
Dr Smith was speaking on behalf of 600 local GPs, and was joined by the concerned voices of local members of parliament, St Vincent Hospital’s Dr Peter McGeorge, heads of health peak bodies and clients of women-only services. The forum was the first step in what became a campaign by the new advocacy network SOS Women’s Services which was formed to stop the government’s defunding of women’s services in the inner city.
At the time, the government had cut over $6 million from homelessness services in the inner city and new tenders had been written in a way that precluded the continued funding of the city’s women’s refuges. As consequences of the government’s policy, refuges in Randwick and Ryde had already sadly announced their closures, after decades of providing safe havens for women and children escaping domestic violence, and more were to come.
Organisations like Leichhardt Women’s Community Health Centre had been stunned that there would be no specialist refuges for their clients recovering from mental illness, drug and alcohol dependency, childhood sexual abuse and leaving custody, and no girls-only youth refuge. The network of women’s services gathered together to commence advocacy. At the height of the campaign, thousands of people wrote emails to MPs and put up posters throughout the city. Facebook posts tipped 50,000 views, affected MPs spoke out and a 15,500-signature petition resulted in a debate in parliament.
After sharing our concerns with the Minister and the community campaign we were pleased to announce late last year, with the Minister, that the women’s services in the inner city were saved from closure and had secured funding and their refuge properties. We are very thankful for the close attention of Minister Gabrielle Upton to reverse the government’s plans and secure into the future the network of specialist services for vulnerable women in the inner city.
Sadly, women’s services throughout NSW have not fared as well. In May 2014, prior to the government’s “reforms”, there were around 100 women’s refuges in NSW run by women, for women. Now there are just 14. Of the ones that have survived the process, many are now run by large charities or have to cater for mixed gender and, seven months after funding announcements, many services are not yet operational. Reports from services of problems to fix now include there being less full-time staffing of homelessness services, less 24/7 on call by women staff, less CALD and Aboriginal specific refuges and less girl-only youth refuges. Many women-only services, built up by local communities over decades, have closed. Domestic violence is on the national agenda like never before, but NSW is against the tide. This isn’t the time for closures of women-only services and loss of expertise.
While the inner-city specialist women’s services have been saved from closure, these same services are now struggling within a broader network that is trying to cope with the realities post-reform. Many women’s services have lost access to the supported accommodation on which they’ve relied to transition women to live independently and there is hardly a referral service that says they’re coping with the pressures. Services are attempting to work with the government and are liaising with strong community advocates such as Alex Greenwich to solve these remaining issues. In November, SOS Women’s Services spoke with the government about “hotspots” and has asked Minister Upton to work with us to rectify gaps in the new system.
Roxanne McMurray is the manager of Leichhardt Women’s Community Health Centre and spokesperson for SOS Women’s Services. For more information, go to www.soswomensservices.com.