Wollongong women's refuge praised despite service reforms

Wollongong Women's Refuge staff Kathy Colyer, Lesley Labka and Julie Sudiro. Picture: GREG TOTMAN
Wollongong Women's Refuge staff Kathy Colyer, Lesley Labka and Julie Sudiro. Picture: GREG TOTMAN

From the support Michelle* received from the Wollongong refuge after problems with her boyfriend, she says Illawarra women in crisis are in good hands, despite the service reforms.

"Housing NSW put me up for three weeks in Piccadilly [Motor Inn] and my caseworker was there with me every day," she said.

"[The caseworker] helped me to find somewhere to live, took me to the doctor, the psychiatrist, even things after hours."

Michelle has now found a property in Unanderra but still benefits from services offered by the Wollongong Women's Refuge.

"They're just great people who have helped me a lot and taught me how to live," she said.

Winning $2.25 million in tenders, Supported Accommodation and Homelessness Services Shoalhaven Illawarra (SAHSSI) will now manage refuges in Nowra, Warilla and Wollongong.

It will also add housing stock to its 19 transitional properties and studio apartments. A FACS spokesperson said funding for women's services would increase 30 per cent in the region and Lesley Labka, soon-to-become manager of the SAHSSI's Shoalhaven arm, said the changes would make service provision more effective.

"Women escaping domestic violence often need to get out of town, so one organisation running all services means we can move women out of unsafe areas easily," Ms Labka said.

"There will be no change in the support women receive. We are working with unsuccessful organisations to transition clients and case notes."

SAHSSI will employ 22 staff across the three refuges and a soon-to-be-established housing resource centre in Swan Street, Wollongong.

Ms Labka said staff from unfunded services "will have first dibs" on applying for four new positions in the Shoalhaven to manage increased client loads.

"Our staff will predominantly be outreach workers, with a focus on saving tenancies before people become homeless," she said. "All past arrangements will be honoured, and anyone currently in crisis accommodation will remain there. Nobody will be made homeless as a result of these changes."

* Surname withheld.

Services successful in gaining funding under Going Home Staying Home reforms have reassured clients of unfunded agencies they will continue to be housed and helped under the new system.

“We have no intention of making anyone homeless,” said Michael Irvine, special works co-ordinator for St Vincent de Paul’s Wollongong diocese.

From November, Vinnies will take control of 27 properties now managed by Wollongong Emergency Family Housing (WEFH), which was  unsuccessful in its tender application. 

Mr Irvine said WEFH clients now in emergency housing would not have to leave their homes when they were transferred to Vinnies’ Illawarra Homelessness Co-ordination Service.

“I can categorically say we have no intention of moving on anyone currently in those properties,” he said.

“They will stay there until we can get suitable outcomes for them. We will be doing the same things Wollongong Emergency Family Housing would have done.”

Mr Irvine said Vinnies would establish a central information point to help people link with other relevant social services,  and its part-time housing brokerage service would expand to a full-time enterprise, assisting people with rent and property maintenance to avoid eviction.

“It’s about identifying people at risk and helping them keep their property, instead of them actually becoming homeless,” Mr Irvine said.

Bernadette Wood, acting local director for the Department of Family and Community Services, said reforms were structured to minimise possible effects as clients were moved over to the new services.

“There will be no change in support received,” Ms Wood said.

“While an individual provider may not be around, it is not a loss of service, just a different service provider.”

Narelle Clay, chief executive  of Southern Youth & Family Services (SYFS), said her agency’s merger with Illawarra Youth Housing and the new funding model would give more flexibility to agencies.

“We used to have eight different contracts between the two agencies,” Ms Clay said, referencing the specific nature of previous funding arrangements.

“They’ve now basically said, ‘These are the outcomes to achieve, it’s over to you how you do it’. There is reduced red tape around administration.”

Through funding packages for Illawarra youth and Shoalhaven families, SYFS will receive almost $2.7million. 

Ms Clay said this was “not a great expansion” in funding, and the service would not employ additional staff, but it would allow SYFS to better conduct early intervention programs.

“The earlier we intervene, the better. If we can remedy disadvantage early, the likelihood of future disadvantage is much reduced,” she said.


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