“More than 25 feminist women’s refuges in NSW have lost their government funding, with their buildings being handed over to religious or other charities. Many shelters will no longer focus on providing specialist services for domestic violence victims. And the attack on services for Aboriginal communities has been especially savage…
Kempsey provides a case study of what is happening to women’s refuges across the state – it is not the only refuge used by Aboriginal woman to have lost its funding…
The secure refuge, which has been offering specialist domestic violence services for 25 years, is closing and is currently accepting no new clients for its bedrooms, which can house up to four families and children.
Under the NSW government’s new ‘Going Home Staying Home’ program, the NSW Family and Community Services will transfer the building to the Samaritans of Newcastle to run homelessness services, including a general homeless shelter for women…
Since a campaign began to save refuges, some services have been invited to tender for 18 months transition funding. Kempsey is not one of them.
When New Matilda visited the refuge a few days later, the shock and sense of loss amongst refuge staff was palpable. But like women at a number of other refuges, staff have been instructed not to talk to the media.
There is, however, no shortage of Kempsey people who will speak up for them. Smith-Fernando and other Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women are organising a protest rally in Kempsey on August 8. “We are trying to save the refuge and the amazing work they are doing. There is a lot of support because it is going to affect the whole community,” says Smith-Fernando.
Natalie Smee, who has extensive domestic violence experience across courts, child abuse and family support services in Kempsey and interstate, says she was confident that the service would be funded and was ‘floored’ when she heard it was not. “The women’s refuge has become a pivotal part of the domestic violence sector which has developed a monitoring committee of up to 50 people from other services including the police and courts,” says Smee. “This has been established through their professionalism and inclusiveness.”
So why weren’t these partnerships not taken into account for the Kempsey tender? Why was the Kempsey community not consulted?
A FACS spokesperson told New Matilda that the Department won’t comment on specific tenders.”
Updated: Late yesterday, the Domestic Violence Service Management Inc manager Gillian Cohen who had never previously visited the [Kempsey] refuge and had delivered the notice of redundancies by Skype last week, escorted June Wilson out of the refuge, one month before her redundancy date.
About an hour later the Samaritans, who were meant to do a handover with Wilson in the last week of August, arrived. A Samaritans Manager from Taree has taken over.
With their own manager out of the way, the staff were instructed to cooperate in the hand over of the refuge. They have been instructed not to speak about the refuge to the media.
According to Kempsey sources, an Aboriginal worker asked if there was to be a replacement Aboriginal worker, she was told ‘no’.
The women were accused of spreading misinformation about the Going Home Staying Home project and were told that they had been observed attending a ‘political’ rally organised by the Taree Women’s refuge which has also been taken over by the Samaritans.
The remaining workers have been instructed to teach the Samaritans how to run the refuge until August 29th and have to get pre-approval if they wish to look for work.
For the first time in quarter of a century, Kempsey refuge is currently empty.