Homeless women most marginalised in government plans for domestic violence funding

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Pedestrains walk past a woman holding a sign stating she is homeless as she begs for money on a main street in central Sydney, Australia, July 23, 2015. Reuters/David Gray

There are currently ten times more beds available for homeless men than there are for homeless women in Brisbane, says the CEO of a prominent Queensland charity.

This alarming statistic comes despite the fact that women make up just under half of Brisbane’s overall homeless population.

Karen Lyon Reid of The Lady Musgrave Trust says this disparity is largely due to the higher level of “special needs” of homeless women as compared to men.

“Traditionally there has been more accommodation for men. Women are harder to accommodate, they often come with children and safety or security issues...they need a different kind of solution.”

Lyon Reid noted domestic violence as being “front and centre” among the reasons for women seeking assistance, saying “it’s a huge issue...Half to a third of the women who come to us come from violent situations.”

She also stated that Brisbane’s current crisis of emergency accommodation for the female homeless population forces many young women to return to the violent homes they have fled from.

“Hundreds are turned away daily. Sometimes it’s too hard, and they end up going back to some very dissatisfactory circumstances.”

The Lady Musgrave Trust has been providing essential support services and accommodation to homeless women in Queensland since 1885. Earlier this month, the organisation launched its new Shelter Me initiative to combat the accommodation crisis.

According to Lyon Reid, the organisation’s goal is to raise $60,000 in order to purchase a new unit block in 2016.  

“Our Shelter Me initiative aims to raise much needed funds to acquire eight new units to give homeless women and children a place to call home, and to continue to provide them with a range of services such as accommodation and support services, domestic violence services, and a service directory for homeless women,” she said.

If successful, the Trust hopes that the new unit block will house 200 women and children, including 80 families and 70 single women each year.

However, Lyon Reid also emphasised the need to further extend funding for support and accommodation services for homeless women, stating that the success of the Shelter Me initiative would only be “a drop in the ocean.”

This crisis of accommodation is by no means limited to the state of Queensland, but is instead representative of a large hole in Federal funding for women’s refuges in Australia.

In October of this year, the Turnbull Government announced a $100 million package aimed at combating domestic violence in Australia. Though this number marks a positive step in the fight for more women’s services, it still falls short of the funds required.

According to analysis completed by Homelessness Australia, this most recent funding allocation isn’t even enough to maintain services at their current levels.

The organisation argues that an additional $33.8 million per annum of Federal Government funding is needed to ensure women fleeing domestic violence aren’t left without the support to keep them safe.

Following its announcement in October, it is unlikely that the Turnbull Government will reveal further plans for the funding of women’s services for some months.

In the meantime, women’s services leaders such as Lyon Reid are forced to rely on donations from the community and corporate partnerships to continue providing safe accommodation for Australia’s homeless women.

“If the property and development, and not-for-profit sectors work together, we can acquire shelters for these women and children, and together we can help rebuild lives,” she said.

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