City News

Inner city services for homeless women axed

The closure of women’s only refuges also means reduced support services. Photo supplied by SOS

With around 20 women’s homelessness services in the inner city set to close, many are asking just where these women will go after doors shut in July.

As part of the Going Home Staying Home reforms, the state government is diverting at least $5 million in funding from the inner city to regional areas.

Homelessness service providers are now required to tender for services. Only one tender has been designated for a women’s service, with all others either to shut down or to become mixed gender.

Kate Timmins, manager of the B. Miles Women’s Foundation and spokesperson for the Save Our Women’s Services (SOS) group, believes that redirecting funding to regional areas is misguided.

“Homeless people gravitate to the inner city for a range of different reasons,” she said.

“There are meal services, there’s anonymity, people can flee situations and not be found.”

Ms Timmins added that the sector has been left in “shell shock”.

“It’s important to have women-specific services for these client groups because they’ve survived violence and sexual assault that’s often perpetrated by men,” she said.

“Women have the best chance of recovering when they’re in those specialist programs.”

After meeting with a number of inner city refuge providers, City of Sydney councillor Jenny Green said that she is “extremely concerned” homeless and at-risk women and children will be forced to sleep rough or to return to abusive homes if the cuts are not reversed.

“Refuge staff say they will have no choice but to refer the homeless on to backpacker hostels and other cheap accommodation which will not provide other support services,” Cr Green said.

Ms Timmins is also concerned about the future of people currently housed in homelessness programs.

“There’s a transition phase from July to September. People will freeze intake and they’ll just be exiting the clients that they already have,” she told City News.

NSW Shadow Minister for Housing and Shadow Minister for the Status of Women Sophie Cotsis said the state government has subjected clients and staff to months of uncertainty.

“The need for safe places for women and girls escaping domestic violence and sexual assault has always been crucial,” she said.

Ms Cotsis is calling on the government to rule out any changes that will force women-only and specialist services to close.

“It is not acceptable to expect women who have suffered serious trauma or sexual abuse to be forced into counselling or residential programs in mixed gender environments,” she said.

“The loss of expertise in women’s services will cost the health and community services more over time, leading to increased hospital admissions, assaults, suicides and child safety issues.”

Independent MP for Sydney Alex Greenwich supports the SOS campaign and warns that when current services close, no new services will replace them.

“Staff in homelessness services are being retrenched already and there is going to be a gap between current services shutting down and new ones getting funded and established,” he said.

Marrickville mayor Jo Haylen said that NSW Minister for Family and Community Services Gabrielle Upton has not made a case for the reforms, and council is now demanding that the state government release research to prove their claims.

“To force homeless services to become services for both men and women shows a callous disregard and ignorance of the issues many women and girls face,” she said, estimating that 2000 women and children would be affected annually.

Cr Green criticised the government’s repeated cuts to homelessness and affordable housing programs.

“Firstly … the Millers Point housing tenants and now some of our most at-risk women and children [are] being turned out on to the streets,” she said.

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