The forced closure of Eden South East Women and Children’s Services (SEWACS) has left program manager Kath Musgrove “absolutely gutted”, and fearing for the futures of local women and children who fall victim to domestic violence.
Eden SEWACS will close its doors for the final time at the end of the month, following the NSW Government’s decision to divert funding to the new Bega Valley Homelessness Support Service package as part of its Going Home Staying Home policy.
Mission Australia were selected as the preferred provider following a tendering process, and Ms Musgrove says the loss of specialised domestic violence workers in favour of an umbrella homelessness support service is a huge step backwards for those at risk.
“Domestic violence is the main cause of women and children being homeless, and one of the hardest things for women to do with domestic violence is to actually leave,” she said.
“It often brings feelings of shame or denial for them, and to take that step and leave, they need to have trusted support people around them.
“Over the seven years we’ve been here, we’ve supported hundreds of women through that process.
“Because we’ve got the trust of the community (across) all cultural backgrounds, we’ve got ‘street cred’ basically, and we’re specialised domestic violence workers.
“What the government has done is push domestic violence services into the homelessness sector, rather than recognise that domestic violence is a specialised type of work.
“There are a lot of very different and complex issues facing women and children who are dealing with domestic violence, and the fact that we’re here and we’ve got that trust makes it so much easier for them to get help.”
But Mission Australia regional leader for South East NSW, Cheryl O’Donnell, says the organisation’s Community Connections homelessness program will be able to fill the void.
Ms O’Donnell said experienced staff have operated the program in Eden for three-and-a-half years, including offering support for domestic violence victims.
“This service will provide face-to-face support tailored to an individual’s or family’s circumstances, including for women and children leaving domestic violence situations,” Ms O’Donnell said.
“As an organisation, we have years of experience in providing support to women and children in this situation, and will bring that experience to bear with this service.”
“Under the new contract, our staff will continue to work with other local agencies to provide the best possible outcomes for members of the community who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
“We will also make sure that people who are currently accessing homeless services are supported through the transition period.”
Labor candidate for Bega, Leanne Atkinson, has also raised concerns about the closure of SEWACS, and has vowed to make social services a priority in her campaign.
Ms Atkinson, who recently held a forum at Bega Valley Shire Council chambers to discuss funding cuts to the sector, has described it as a “cruel and short-sighted decision”.
“Last year, there were more than 100 domestic violence related assaults in Bega Valley Shire according to the latest report from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research,” Ms Atkinson said.
“This is a cruel and short-sighted decision that will limit the options for women in need of support.
“The people of Bega are entitled to ask, what is the point of our local member being the Treasurer if he can’t find money to fund important local services?”
But Member for Bega and NSW Treasurer, Andrew Constance, accused Labor of “preying on the fears of the vulnerable” with its ‘Save Our Services’ campaigns.
He says the services offered as part of Going Home Staying Home will focus on early intervention and prevention, and that the Government needed to act after homelessness in NSW increased by 27 per cent under Labor from 2006-2011.
“Labor is out there making claims that are not only misleading but prey on the fears of those who are homeless or at risk of homelessness,” Mr Constance said.
“Under Going Home Staying Home, the NSW Government will invest a record $445million over three years for non-government organisations to deliver homelessness services.
“This includes $4.87million in 2014/15 for the Southern NSW Family and Community Services district.
“Crucially, the reforms will put more focus on early intervention and prevention; they put more focus on catching people before they fall into crisis point.”
Ms Atkinson questioned the practicality of this measure though, saying that in most cases, it takes a great deal of suffering before women visit a hospital or refuge to ask for help.
Eden SEWACS will host a farewell lunch at midday at 157 Imlay Street on Wednesday, July 23. All are welcome to attend.
Help and support is also available through the Domestic Violence Line on 1800 656 463.