Where will victims of violence find refuge in Strathfield?

The young mother’s problems were extreme, even by the standards of the Enfield caseworkers who run a secret women’s refuge for those fleeing domestic violence.

Her partner was physically abusive.  He attacked her in front of her children. His rage was so great, he even smashed holes in the walls of their rented unit.

She needed money to change the locks – and to repair the damage. And food for her children.

It’s just another case for the workers at St Vincent de Paul, who until a few weeks ago ran the Enfield shelter for many years.

Now, the heavily guarded shelter – we cannot even reveal its name for fear that partners seeking the women they abused might set out to discover its location – has gone to a larger provider.  No one is saying who.

It’s all part of what the State Government calls its Going Home, Staying Homeprogram – a name that sounds as if it came straight from some slick PR’s handbook, but which actually means that refuges like the one at Enfield will
be merged with other homeless shelters. There are fears victims of domestic violence in Strathfield will struggle to find a specialised safe place to stay as a result.

Funding was previously directed to small organisations like the St Vincent de Paul Society.  They lost the tender to continue running Enfield only recently.

President of St Vincent de Paul in Strathfield, Gil Vella, said the society provides a number of services for women and children, such as financial assistance to help with bills, food and other miscellaneous items.

One of the biggest challenges women face in leaving an abusive relationship is finding a means of support. Lack of funds and hungry children is often what drives them back to the home where they were abused in the first place.

 “We try and help wherever we can,’’ said
Mr Vella.

Strathfield’s multicultural demographic makes dealing with such intimate relationships a challenge. It needs a particular understanding
of the needs of a number of different migrant communities.

“The volunteers at St Vincents deal with a number of cases of people from different backgrounds. We have cases where people have been of Anglo-descent, Islanders and Sri Lankans. We really do encourage as many people as we can to get help. There is nothing to be ashamed about.”

But Mr Vella points out the society can do only so much.

“There comes a point in certain cases where we can’t provide the kind of help and security a specialty refuge or centre provides. The society no longer runs the Enfield refuge, which had 10 rooms for women and children who needed a secure place to stay,” he said.

“The house is heavily guarded and very hard to find. We have kept the house like this for a long time and it has been a very helpful resource for victims of domestic violence. But since we lost the tender, we are unsure of the future of this vital community resource.”

According to the Burwood Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Services (WDVCA), about 66 per cent of domestic abuse cases are from ethnic communities. “The cultures we have mainly dealt with are people who speak Mandarin, Arabic, Korean, Hindi, Vietnamese and Turkish,” said WDVCA’s Melissa.  She said many of the clients the service deals with feel uncomfortable living in the same space as men for cultural reasons.

“Under the Going Home, Staying Homereforms, many of the [women’s] refuges are being turned into shelters for [everyone]. So what was once a women and children’s refuge may now allow men.

“There also may be situations where, although the males have an Apprehended Violence Order taken out against them, they are still a threat to the women and children. They will be allowed to walk freely into these shelters,” she said.

“Some women from ethnic cultures may not feel comfortable sharing a space with an unknown male. And this is a problem we will be facing – finding the appropriate accommodation for women and children, especially when [refuges] become few and far between.”

She pointed out that the NSW Police Force’s Auburn/Flemington Local Area Command, which services Strathfield, tended to have the highest number of domestic violence reports.

“We think it’s because there are a lot of new migrant communities that move into the
area, some of which believe in their culture it
is socially acceptable to act violently towards women… And in most of the cultural situations we deal with, there is a patriarchal structure in the families. The males exercise their dominance by acting out physically towards women and children.”

The State Government maintains that the new homeless program will increase access and still have beds especially for women from abusive relationships.  A Family and Community Services spokesperson told theScene the Enfield establishment would continue to cater for women.

“Specialist support for women, with or without children, is built into the new service system with over half of the new services for women-only or include a discrete specialist response for women,” the spokesperson said.

Sydney District West Family Homelessness Support Service, in which Women and Girl’s Emergency Centre is the lead agency with St Vincent de Paul, Jewish House, Stepping Out and Wesley Mission, services will be provided to women and their children escaping domestic and family violence.


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