A new report released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) this week has found that family violence is a major cause of homelessness in Australia.
Approximately 187,000 women and children were driven into homelessness between 2011 and 2014 because of family violence. This represents more than one third of all people seeking help from homeless services during that period.
The report also revealed that 48 per cent of family violence clients were assessed as homeless when they first sought assistance.
People who leave their home because of family violence often experience severe disruption, poorer housing and significant financial disadvantage. Government cuts to social services are also exacerbating the vulnerability faced by people in family violence situations. Only nine per cent of family violence clients in the study were provided with long term accommodation on their first request.
The report revealed that Indigenous women experiencing family violence generally access specialist homelessness services for longer periods than other groups. Almost 40 per cent of this cohort received support services spanning more than 300 days, compared with 25 per cent for other family violence clients.
Rosemary Burrell is Connections UnitingCare’s Regional Integration Family Violence Co-ordinator. She said the report highlights the need for a system-wide approach to family violence.
“Women become homeless because they would rather stop the violence by leaving than staying in the family home,” Ms Burrell said.
“They are desperate and consider that leaving is preferable to staying with the perpetrator. The result is that they become homeless.
“It is often impossible for a woman in this situation to be financially independent as they have often been denied the opportunity to participate in education/training or working outside the home. As a result of the emotional abuse, they have little sense of self-worth.”
The majority of adult clients who seek assistance because of family violence are women. Throughout the three years examined in the report, 110,000 women sought assistance, compared to 12,000 men. More than 40 per cent of women clients were with children, and 21 per cent were young women aged 15–24.
Connections UnitingCare provides a range of programs to assist people who experience family violence.
“Connections staff work closely with other services to assist with a range of complexities including homelessness. We provide a therapeutic approach to dealing with family violence through individual counselling, family counselling and group therapy,” Ms Burrell said.
“This approach aims to work with women to empower them to gain a sense of self through confidence and self-esteem building, so they can look to the future beyond survival or living with family violence. This work may, in the long term, mean they will become financially independent.”
The upcoming 2016 Connections UnitingCare Conference: Making Lives Better – Improving Life Outcomes for Vulnerable Children and Families will ask a panel of experts whether it is possible to eradicate family violence.
The panel will include assistant commissioner Dean McWhirter (Family Violence Command, Victoria Police), magistrate Lesley Fleming (Magistrate Children’s Court) and Paul Nixon (chief social worker at Child, Youth and Family Services New Zealand).
The conference will take place on 25-26 May at Rydges Melbourne, 186 Exhibition Street.
For more information about it, visit connections.org.au/conference.