Visa Restrictions A Challenge

An alarming number of women without permanent residency are coming to our safe house and refuge to escape family violence. Many of the women are on visas, such as spouse visas, which can mean they are not eligible for any benefits from Centrelink or homelessness services.

This long standing trend is placing great pressure on all services including McAuley Community Services for Women, and is particularly compounded by the overall increase in family violence reporting.Women, who do not have access to any benefits, cannot contribute to their accommodation or living costs, stay in the safe house and refuges longer because of limited housing options and require more intensive case work, and results in fewer vacancies for other women and children

In the past year our safe house and refuge program supported 496 women and children (255 women and 241 children). Of those 255 women, 59 were not permanent residents.

Lisa Tout, Safety & Futures Team Leader at McAuley Care, said despite the financial burden, McAuley Community Services for Women, was determined to offer the women and their children safety from their violent home situations, regardless of their visa status.

“Most women (and children) who come to the safe house stay seven days on average and we provide all their essential needs,” Ms Tout said.

“The average stay in our refuge is three months and the women pay a small service fee as well as their food and living expenses and they are case managed.”

“However, most of the women without permanent residency are staying many months and need to have everything, including their food, medical costs and clothing, provided by us.”

Housing exit options for these women and children after leaving the safe house or refuge are limited because many are not eligible for transitional housing or public housing and do not have any money for private rental.

A recent example at the safe house involved a Sri Lankan woman, with children, who was on a visa that did not entitle her to any benefit. She was with McAuley Care for two months before a place was found in country Victoria.

Dawn Cadman, a family support worker at McAuley Care, said the family needed money for taxis, visa applications, food (special dietary requirements), outings with her children, and clothing as they had left their home without anything.

“More and more of these ladies are coming to us for help and we do all that we can,” Dawn said.

Recently, a woman without permanent residency, gave birth to a baby while in our refuge. We thank the Rich Hart Fund that made it possible for us to provide the following items for the woman and her baby:

•Maternity clothes

•Food

•Transport/MYKI

•Baby formula

•Medication, pregnancy vitamins

•Birth certificate

•Parking – women’s hospital

•Babies vaccinations

Other items we were able to source through donations such as baby furniture (St. Kilda Mums), nappies (Nappy Collective), some food (Foodbank), baby clothes.

McAuley Community Services for Women is calling for increased funding for this group of women and children, and a speedier processing of permanent residency visa applications.