The Feminist Collective and newly-formed group the No Shelter Collective held a meeting at the Newtown Neighbourhood Centre on July 16 to address the NSW state government’s plans to defund key women and children’s refuges across the state.
About 130 people came to hear about government plans to defund around 80 specialist refuges, which could potentially force many women and children’s refuges to shut down, or be handed over to be run by private organisations.
Many women’s refuges have already been shut down or are under the process of being handed over.
The No Shelter Collective were joined by several speakers including University of Sydney’s Senior Lecturer in Social Work and Policy Services Leslie Laing, Aboriginal activist Uncle Albert, and a member of the Public Service Association.
The PSA member, who wanted to remain anonymous and whose speech was read out by a forum organiser, said that the proposed handover and shutting down of specialist refuges could potentially put women and children in immediate danger.
“We believe that it will result in women staying home for longer than they want to. It will be much more difficult to protect women from stalking and assault prior to release.”
One of the main concerns raised by all of the speakers was whether the religious groups put in charge of the specialist refuges would provide adequate care for the women and, particularly, children seeking shelter. Many of the religious groups, such as the Salvation Army, have a history of child sexual abuse.
Another concern was that sufferers of domestic violence could be forced to use homeless shelters, meaning that homeless people and domestic violence victims will be housed together.
Laing said that domestic violence victims cannot receive the same care that they would receive at a women-only refuge.
“Safe women-only spaces generate innovative ideas by women for women that I don’t think will come from large corporatised organisations.”
“Really important specialist work has grown and developed over time and is under threat by these changes,” she said.
About 500 people attended a vigil in Sydney’s Pitt Street mall on July 24 to raise awareness of the government’s proposed cuts and stand in solidarity with women affected. Participants collected 780 signatures for the petition against the government's reforms.