Sadly the face of homelessness is changing, with more and more women finding themselves without a home. A large proportion of this growing and vulnerable demographic are domestic violence survivors and their children.
As a society we have been treating domestic violence and homelessness as two separate issues and I think it is time to ask ourselves: ‘Do our current established domestic violence and homelessness services really meet people’s current needs?’. From my experience, the answer is ‘no’.
As the chair of the board of the women's shelter, The Sanctuary, I know crisis shelters do meet a critical need for women and children who wish to escape. But crisis accommodation – which is available for up to three months - only provides part of a solution in enabling the most vulnerable and at risk community members to live independent lives.
And what of the many survivors who might never access a shelter? What about their struggle to find stable and long-lasting accommodation?
And so we find that survivors become caught up in an ongoing cycle of fleeing from and returning back to violence because of the lack of stable housing. It's what we call in the sector a ‘barrier’ that women face on the pathway to safety and independence.
I constantly hear the same question over and over again: ‘Why don’t women just leave?’. Given the reality of housing affordability and the rising cost of living, this question pretty much answers itself.
I had been thinking of alternative solutions – but the missing link is something called transitional housing.
When I became mayor, I came up with a way in which I thought we might be able to help deliver vitally needed transitional housing to our community. Transitional housing is different from affordable and social housing. The aim of ‘transitioning’ is to help women to ultimately achieve wonderful and independent lives, not lives entirely dependent on social housing.
And on July 25, The Hills Council made history after my fellow councillors and I unanimously voted to implement the Transitional Housing Policy Framework, which will provide a supply of transitional housing in our community and do this at no cost to council, rate payers or the government.
The policy would allow a developer who meets the criteria, to build two additional dwellings for every transitional home provided. And we have capped the ‘uplift’ to a maximum of three transitional homes per development.
The transitional homes would remain the property of the developer and would be managed by community housing providers or not-for-profit organisations, and would be returned to the developer after a set period of time.
I am so enormously proud of this policy and I am even more proud we will be the first council in the country to offer a new model for transitional housing at no cost to the ratepayer.
For me, this was a pinnacle achievement of my time as mayor and probably the most important thing I will ever do in my life.
In NSW, the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, Pru Goward, said all ideas are on the table, and I hope to gain Ms Goward’s and the support of NSW Cabinet to use this model to change the lives and futures of women and children in NSW as a starting point.
It is my great hope other councils will look at adopting my model – which delivers at no cost to them – as a way to solve the problems within their own communities. Even greater still, it is my hope state and territory governments will look at this model and adopt it as an effective solution across the country.
No one should ever have to choose between staying with an abusive partner or becoming homeless.
- Yvonne Keane is the former mayor of The Hills, chair of the board of the Sanctuary, sits on the NSW Women's Council for Economic Opportunity and a director of Local Government NSW.