The NSW government is facing a community backlash over new reforms that are forcing women-only shelters and refuges to close or be taken over.

Their “Going Home, Staying Home” reforms pushed all women’s refuges, homelessness services, youth services and Aboriginal services into a competitive tender process for reduced levels of government funding. The process excluded women-only or specialist services, meaning organisations had to move to become general homelessness shelters to win funding.

Overwhelming, non-government religious organisations such as Mission Australia and St Vincent De Paul won the tenders. Some women’s shelters are now closing, while others face a hostile takeover.

This is a major attack on services for women and children fleeing domestic violence, fuelled by the NSW Liberals’ desire for cost-cutting and the marketisation of public services.

The Save our Services (SOS) group set up to fight the changes delivered a petition with 10,000 signatures to NSW parliament in early August. Spokeswoman Roxanne McMurray explained, “The government keeps saying no women’s refuges are closing, but that’s simply not the case. Women’s refuges across the state are being told to hand over their buildings and vehicles, let go of staff, get taken over by someone else offering a completely different service, and the government says that’s not a closure?

“Many women’s refuges that are being taken over…will not provide the same type of service, will often house women, men and families together and many will no longer operate 24/7.” Marilyn Fogarty, the manager of a specialised Aboriginal women’s refuge in Campbelltown explained, “Our refuge has been operating for 28 years and we help hundreds of women each year, but we’re now being taken over by St Vincent De Paul. Aboriginal women won’t seek help from a religious organisation because the Stolen Generation still resonates in their communities.”

Seven shelters across NSW have already closed, while Balmain state Labor candidate Verity Firth says that eight or more services in Sydney’s Inner West are at risk, including Australia’s first women’s refuge, Elsie’s.

The staff at Elsie’s have all been made redundant, as have all the staff of Delores Single Women’s Refuge at Bondi Junction. Sally from the Lillian Howell Project told a protest meeting in July called by the No Shelter Collective that the staff at her shelter, facing closure are, “not going to leave our building!” to rapturous applause.

No Shelter is an open collective campaigning against the cuts. They spoke to workers at nearly half of the services effected. Michelle from the collective explained, “We’ve heard from workers a desire to see rallies, sit ins, a mass movement.”

By Amy Thomas

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