Spotlight on Homelessness and Violence

The past month has seen the spotlight shone on homelessness and family violence thanks to the comprehensive findings of the Royal Commission into Family Violence and the subsequent Victorian Government’s 2016/17 budget. We welcome the wide ranging approach that has been mapped out to address the disaster that family violence is for Victorians.

We congratulate the Andrews Labor Government for keeping its promise before the last election that all recommendations would be implemented. The fact that the Commissioners placed timelines within the report will certainly assist in ensuring an ongoing roll out, together with the bipartisan support for the report. This is an excellent step in the right direction.

What was especially pleasing was that the link between homelessness and family violence has been clearly made. Indeed, last year, according to Homelessness Australia, 22 per cent of people seeking help from specialist homelessness services were escaping family violence.

All of our 12 recommendations to the Commission were recognised in some way in the extensive 2,000 page report, and in fact the report makes frequent references to our submission and we were delighted that we were one of four services in Victoria to have housing proposals funded .

Our first recommendation, to keep women and children safe at home, has been recognised throughout the report. Currently, unless a woman and her child can access crisis accommodation, such as our 24/7 accessible safe house, the alternative is a motel room which is neither ideal, nor safe. As we have said many times, homelessness should never be the safer option.

There are gaps in the report, mainly around court support for mothers with children, although we do note that the findings call for magistrates’ courts to be child-friendly and have adequate facilities for children. This, in our view, does not go far enough, and we are seeking funding to have our Court Support 4 Kids service extended to Geelong, and eventually across the State.

The report recognises the importance of women being financially independent and retaining jobs, however much of the emphasis is on financial literacy rather than employment services for women experiencing family violence. Our McAuley Works program, currently unfunded (and therefore not operating), has had great success in placing and retaining women in the workforce. Since 2010, when McAuley Works was founded, taxpayers have been saved an annual $1 million as a result of 45 women no longer receiving Centrelink payments.

How the multiple initiatives will be co-ordinated, managed and governed remains to be seen and will be a major piece of work for both government and the community service sector; as will be the multiple legislative changes which will be closely followed by updated standards and practices.

This work will be critical to the success of the overall Royal Commission and an area that we will be watching closely.

Many of you have asked whether we will receive funding for our services from the family violence $500 million package, apart from the very welcome allocation for our building project. The short answer is that we wait and see. What is also known is that the Commissioners have acknowledged the work of specialist family violence and homelessness services, and have emphasised the need for increased funding.

In all, 2016 has started promisingly, and I look forward to briefing you on our progress.