27 September 2023

Housing crisis forcing people to choose between their abusers and homelessness

A lack of affordable, safe housing is creating a bottleneck in refuge accommodation. Picture: iStock

Maya Pilbrow

10 June 2023

Higher rents and mortgage payments are forcing those experiencing family violence to choose between staying with their abusers or potential homelessness.

Family violence and housing support services have been overwhelmed by demand over the past few months as interest rates and rents have risen dramatically. 

Women’s Housing Ltd women’s services manager Sarah Sheppard said a lack of affordable rental options meant those in short-term and refuge accommodation had been unable to enter the private market, causing a backlog for service providers. 

“There’s a bottleneck for refuge services,” she said. 

Melbourne rents underwent the largest annual increase since records began in 2000, according to the latest rental report from the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing. 

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Ms Sheppard said a lack of safe and affordable housing meant her organisation had been forced to turn some people away. She said clients were referred to alternative options if no vacancies were suitable, but overwhelming demand meant more people state-wide were going unassisted. 

She said many people who needed housing support also needed family violence support, but the fragmented way support agencies operated meant people often had to deal with multiple agencies and case managers. 

“For clients to say, ‘I’m experiencing family violence, this may lead to homelessness’ and have just one case manager be able to walk them through that process?” she said. “That would be really nice.” 

Salvation Army Victorian public relations secretary Major Warren Elliott said faith-based organisations like his own were able to direct people to a range of support services in a more centralised way. 

He said the Salvation Army provided 16,500 sessions of care to people impacted by family violence in the first quarter of 2023, a 23 per cent increase over the same period the previous year.  

“We can give them financial counselling. We can give them food vouchers, we can connect them with a with a faith-based congregation if they want,” he said. 

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Family violence peak body Safe and Equal chief executive Tania Farha said many people escaping family violence had little to no income. 

She said violence, economic abuse and rising rental costs meant victims of family violence often had to rely on waitlisted social housing or limited refuge and crisis accommodation.  

Family violence support service Berry Street deputy chief executive Jenny McNaughton said a barrier to escaping family violence was a lack of safe places to go and a fear of homelessness.  

“For some in our community, the ebb and flow of the private rental market is simply too brutal,” she said. 

Anglicare Victoria chief executive Paul McDonald said family violence was forcing mothers and children into homelessness and precarious housing situations. 

He said faith-based organisations and individuals of faith in the wider community had the power to agitate and advocate for change to address the housing crisis. 

“Fundamentally, we have to fix this social issue, to bring our voice to it,” he said.

If you or someone you know needs support, please contact a support services such as:

  • Lifeline Australia 13 11 14
  • The National Domestic Family and Sexual Violence Counselling Service 1800 RESPECT
  • Centres Against Sexual Assault 1800 806 292
  • Blue Knot 1300 657 380

If life is in danger, contact Triple Zero (000).

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