A candle-lit vigil to protest upcoming closures of women’s only homelessness services in Sydney has been organised by activist group Students for Women’s Only Services. The vigil was organised as a response to the NSW Government’s Going Home Staying Home reforms.
The vigil will also be used to gather supporters for the signing of a petition asking the NSW Government for “restoration of all funding to NSW women’s-specific homelessness services”.
Summer, a university student who has been involved in organising the event and who has spent most of her life in homelessness facilities told City Hub she feels women’s only services are essential for the safety of young women.
“I have spent time in all kinds of homelessness services. I personally had very traumatic experiences in mixed gender services, which really highlights why it is so important to have women’s only options,” she said.
“When I was very young, a man threw a pot and a pan at me because he thought I hadn’t done the dishes and I was injured as a result. I have never experienced that kind of violence in a women’s refuge.”
“In the women’s refuge I felt safe from violence and I felt comfortable asking for help.”
Summer said she hopes her personal experiences highlight the importance of fighting for women’s services.
“People don’t like to think about things that make them uncomfortable, so no one is recognising what is at stake here.”
“I guarantee that if anyone had experienced what I have, or if their daughters or sisters or mothers had experienced what I have, they would understand why we are fighting these reforms.”
“Women’s refuges are simply the only safe option for us.”
Thursday’s vigil also aims to highlight the impact of the closures on groups of women the organisers feel have not been considered in the implementation of the Going Home Staying Home reforms.
One group the vigil will focus on is Sydney’s culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse women, who organisers feel are disproportionately affected by the reforms.
“People of culturally diverse backgrounds are at higher risk of intimate partner abuse and homelessness and we really wanted to highlight that,” said Phoebe Moloney, SWOS spokesperson.
Women’s Officer for the NSW branch of the National Union of Students Amy Knox echoed this concern and also expressed concern for women of religiously diverse backgrounds who may be unable to access independent refuges following the cuts.
“It will be very hard for these women to feel comfortable approaching large faith-based organisations,” said Ms Knox.
“Women from non-English speaking backgrounds are already not comfortable accessing these services so the cuts will hit these women especially hard,” said Anjana Regmi, the Convenor of Asian Australian Alliance Women’s Forum.
Dr Mehreen Faruqi MLC of the NSW Greens, who will be attending the vigil, agreed with this concern.
“A ‘one size fits all’ approach to such a sensitive issue will lead to already vulnerable women and children being isolated and marginalised,” she said.
“I believe funding for specialist programs is essential for culturally diverse women who are at risk of domestic violence and homelessness.”
The vigil also aims to highlight the disproportionate impact of the reforms on students and young women.
“The first ever women’s-only refuge was started by Anne Summers when she was a student,” said Ms Knox.
“Students were at the forefront of this movement at the beginning so now that these services are facing closure we need to make sure that we, as students, fight to keep them open.”
Summer said her experiences growing up in homelessness shelters have highlighted the importance of refuges that are able to cater to the specific needs of girls and young women.
Also attending the vigil is City of Sydney Councillor Linda Scott.
“It is impossible not to see a future for Sydney where more people, women children in particular, will be sleeping rough as a result of these reforms,” Cr Scott said.
A spokesperson from the Department of Family and Community Services said all women would be catered to under the reforms.
“Each of the organisations that will play a part in Going Home Staying Home is required to deliver services that are sensitive to the needs of clients in the community in which they operate.”
“Client groups that were supported under the specialist homelessness services program will also be supported under Going Home Staying Home.”
SWOS chose a candle-lit vigil rather than a conventional protest because they want to ensure affected women, children and families feel comfortable getting involved in the event.
Ms Moloney said she hoped the vigil would help to raise awareness about the issue.
“We need to send the message that Sydney must be safe for women.”
The vigil will take place this Thursday July 24 at 5.30pm in Pitt Street Mall.