This year’s theme for International Women’s Day is #PressforProgress
However, here in WA we have the second highest rate of reported physical and sexual violence perpetrated against women in Australia. In 2016-17, there were more than 50,000 reported family and domestic violence incidents, and more than 4,500 calls to domestic violence helplines.
Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness among women and children.
Many people do not realize that even when the immediate threat of violence has passed, complex problems often remain which can lead to homelessness if they are not dealt with.
Just as the violent storm may have passed, a disaster often remains.
That’s where Safe as Houses comes in. We offer a one-stop shop where women can access specialist support services to help untangle the mess left by domestic violence.
Unlike other services in WA, Safe as Houses includes legal advice and is specifically aimed at preventing homelessness. We provide a specialist support service that was developed to fill a gap identified in services currently offered to people escaping domestic violence.
When women come to see us, they are often overwhelmed, stressed out and suffering the physical, emotional and practical trauma of domestic violence.
Our team provides a sympathetic ear and specialist expertise. They work with the client to map out a course of action to gradually tackle each problem, often discovering new ones along the way.
Domestic Violence is an issue for the whole community- we need to pick up some of the burden so that women experiencing domestic violence do not carry it all on their own.
Clients who sought help from Safe as Houses often have complicated financial and legal problems in the aftermath of domestic violence. Rent or mortgage arrears due to an abusive partner not paying their share is common, as is bills from damage to property.
We walk with women on their recovery journey and back into a more secure and stable life. Our clients set the pace and priorities, so they’re taking back the power as we help them rebuild their lives.
For example, we may be negotiating a payment plan for rent when it becomes apparent that there are outstanding bills or fines that need a payment plan so she’s not evicted later.
In its first year, the Safe as Houses pilot provided 63 women, who have 95 children among them, with specialized support and advice that helped keep them to maintain secure housing and begin to rebuild their lives after domestic violence.
The range of issues addressed through the Safe as Houses program in its first year included: 28 tenancy or mortgage issues; 38 civil or criminal legal matters; 23 family law disputes; and 33 intensive case management clients.
However, true progress would be if we didn't need services like Safe as Houses.
But until that time, we must #PressforProgress to ensure that women who experience domestic violence can access the help they need from services like Safe as Houses.
Find out more at www.tenancywa.org.au/safeashouses
Principal Solicitor, Tenancy WA
Safe as Houses is a collaboration between Tenancy WA, Women’s Law and Street Law