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Concern building over future of women’s homelessness support

SOS Women's Services is campaigning for women's homelessness support. Photo: Save Our Women's Services

Community concern is continuing to build over the future of specialist women’s homelessness services under the NSW Government’s Going Home Staying Home reforms.

A group called Save Our Women’s Services, which includes women’s homelessness service providers that were unsuccessful in the tender process, are working alongside MPs Linda Burney (Labor) and Alex Greenwich (Independent), to organise a petition for parliament to debate the tenders and the outcomes thereof.

The tender process has been criticised for providing more funding for generalist homelessness facilities at the expense of specialist, women only providers.

“Women’s services run by and for women are important for a number of reasons,” said Dr Anne Summers, Editor and Publisher of Anne Summers Reports and a founder of Elsie Women’s Refuge in 1974.

“They offer traumatised women and kids a safe space where they won’t be reminded of the violence at the hands of their father or husband that they have just escaped from. The years of experience have resulted in an unparalleled set of skills that will now be dispersed and possibly lost forever.”

“I am especially concerned that Catholic organisations will not provide women with unbiased information and advice about contraception and abortion.”

However, Minister for Family and Community Services and NSW Member for Vaucluse, Gabrielle Upton, has criticised Labor “for deliberately misleading the public by saying that an unsuccessful tender equals a closure of a refuge”.

“Many millions of taxpayer dollars have been thrown at homelessness over many years, but it has clearly not worked. Between the last two censuses in 2006 and 2011, homelessness in NSW increased by 27 per cent,” Ms Upton said.

“The NSW Government is funding specialist homelessness services based on evidence, not history. Rather than simply writing cheques every year to the same organisations to do the same thing, we have run a competitive tender across the state to ensure the best organisations are providing the highest quality service for the best possible price.”

“There will still be specialist services, including for women and children escaping domestic and family violence in the new system.”

Dr Summers disputes Ms Upton’s claims that the tender process necessarily empowered the best organisations to do the best job.

“There is no argument for saying large, impersonal, religious organisations will do a better job just because they are richer,” said Dr Summers. “Why are they richer? Because the government gives them more money.”

The reforms have been embraced by Waverley Mayor, Sally Betts, who resolved to discuss the issue of B Miles House specifically with the minister two weeks ago.

“It is really disappointing that when council elected to support a motherhood motion in support of the homeless that it would be turned into a political campaign against the minister who has been so instrumental in increasing funding, not reducing it,” said Ms Betts.

Ms Betts was concerned the issue was being used for political point-scoring.

“Using the homeless as a political football is repugnant and council would not support any such ploy,” Ms Betts said.

“It is hard to criticise the Government for funding such organisations as Wesley Mission, St Vincent’s de Paul, Caretakers Cottage, The Uniting Church, Salvation Army, Ted Noffs, Jewish House and in fact B Miles when these organisations are obviously most capable of dealing with homelessness and indeed delivering specific women’s services in our community,” said Ms Betts.

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