Violence link to homelessness

FRANKSTON ranks highly on family violence statistics, according to Hanover Welfare Services.

CEO Tony Keenan said the city’s reported incident rate of 1747 cases per 100,000 people was higher than Dandenong’s 1574 – and far more than the state average of 1072 cases per 100,000 people.

The welfare service provides emergency accommodation to 6500 victims – including 2500 children – in 240 houses in the Frankston through to Clayton areas. The biggest single cause of their homelessness is family violence.

“Usually it’s mum and the kids escaping a violent relationship,” Mr Keenan said.

“Kids are badly affected by family violence and we especially work on getting them back to school. We also work with people in rooming houses and those simply with no place to live.”

Mr Keenan – speaking on White Ribbon Day last week – said the biggest single ‘driver’ to family violence was the attitude of men towards women.

“Some men think they can solve an argument by hitting a woman – that violence is the answer and that disputes can be resolved through violence. It’s not.”

“In Frankston the high levels of family violence are caused by a combination of issues: high unemployment rates, low housing affordability, and lower socio-economic levels.

“Areas that have high levels of family violence are often the lower socio-economic levels which, in turn, have higher levels of unemployment.”

The Council to Homeless Persons – the peak body for homelessness in Victoria which services Frankston – says more “rapid rehousing” programs were needed to stop the disturbing trend of women escaping family violence into homeless.

Last year more than 18,000 women presented at homelessness services in Victoria with family violence the main cause of their homelessness. This represents more than a quarter of all clients.

“Family violence is the number one driver of homelessness because there are so few safe, affordable accommodation options for women who flee their home,” the council’s CEO Jenny Smith said.

But it’s not always men who are at fault: Community Support Frankston manager Steve Phillips said women were increasingly being blamed for perpetrating domestic violence. “They are not high numbers but they are significant,” he said. “The message we want to get out there is that it happens both ways.”

Domestic Violence Victoria CEO Fiona McCormack agreed family violence was the leading cause – at 44 per cent – of women’s and children’s homelessness.

“It’s a very common experience for women and their children to flee their homes because of family violence,” she said. “Finding affordable and safe housing has become increasingly difficult, which means that they often end up in temporary and insecure accommodation like motels and rooming houses or are forced to sleep in cars.

“Unfortunately, what we often see are women and children returning to violent circumstances in order to have a roof over their heads.”

Ms McCormack said the DVV women’s service in Frankston – operating for 15 years – had a strong relationship with local police.

“In the Frankston area are some excellent community based programs that work to circumvent the rates of homelessness caused by family violence and to support women and children remaining safely in their own homes and having the violent perpetrator removed.

“Unfortunately, these programs rely on a funding agreement between the Commonwealth and the states, whose future beyond June 2015 is uncertain.”

Council to Homeless Persons’ Ms Smith said an “incredibly tight private rental market, combined with an 11-month wait for public housing, meant too many women ended up in rooming houses, motels or sleeping in the backs of their cars”.

Her organisation is proposing $118 million be spent over four years on rapid rehousing programs to help those in temporary and crisis accommodation. “The programs would provide support, rent bonds and short-term rent subsidies to get them on their feet with a fresh start,” she said.

“The investment we’re calling for would help over 5000 people a year to get back into housing fast, minimising the lasting impacts of homelessness.

“It takes enormous strength to leave home because of family violence, but when you know your only option is a rooming house, motel or crisis bed, it makes that decision even harder.”

Less than three out of every 100 rentals in Melbourne would be affordable for a mother on single parenting payments, Ms Smith said. The most recent public housing waiting list is a long one, with 34,600 people on it.

First published in the Frankston Times

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