'It's no surprise': Calls to a women's shelter service have spiked after the end of JobKeeper, the JobSeeker supplement, and renter protections

  • A NSW service connecting women to emergency accommodation is facing “nonstop” calls after government support measures and renter protections came to an end.
  • Annabelle Daniel, CEO of Women’s Community Shelters, said it’s “absolutely no surprise” calls have increased.
  • Many women escaping domestic violence are “much more financially vulnerable straight away,” Daniel said.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Women’s Community Shelters used to field one or two calls a day from women seeking crisis accommodation.

But the New South Wales service now faces “nonstop” requests for assistance, with the organisation saying the recent demise of government support measures and renter protections has pushed at-risk Australians to the brink of homelessness.

Annabelle Daniel, CEO of Women’s Community Shelters and Chair of Domestic Violence NSW, said it’s “absolutely no surprise” that calls for immediate assistance rose one week after the JobKeeper wage subsidy, the JobSeeker Coronavirus Supplement, and rent hike moratoriums ended in late March.

Government support payments and renter protections provided crucial support for women across the country, Daniel said.

“Over the course of the pandemic, I think it’s actually the first time that they may not have had to make a decision between, ‘Do I actually eat a third meal today? Or do I get my kids the medication, or therapy, or the winter clothes that they need?'” she said.

Those unprecedented measures allowed many women to survive and, in many circumstances, flee family violence, Daniel added, noting some women “could use that [support] to secure a rental property.”

“And now the protections are coming to an end, they’re much more financially vulnerable straight away.”

Financial stability is crucial, says expert

Daniel’s statement gives credence to earlier fears that abolishing those support measures could plunge tens of thousands of Australians into homelessness.

In February, the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) warned the end of renter protections — which forbade rent increases, and banned landlords for evicting tenants for late payments — could result in a “new homelessness surge”.

One Victorian legal advice service expected requests for help to “skyrocket”, given the surge of evictions anticipated when those measures drew to a close.

And the Productivity Commission found that 155,000 Australians were saved from extreme rental distress when the Federal Government effectively doubled the JobSeeker payment.

The loss of those support measures will be felt widely.

But the influx of calls to Women’s Community Shelters suggests particularly harsh consequences for women also experiencing domestic violence.

Many shelters are now at capacity across the state, Daniel said, creating an agonising choice for those who “will actually remain in an abusive situation, if they don’t have that secure knowledge” of safe accommodation.

It is not uncommon for women to register themselves on wait lists for shelters which are yet to open, Daniel added.

“They will not make the choice to leave an abusive relationship unless they firstly know that they have a safe place to go, and someone who will work alongside them to help make sure that they are financially sustainable, and obtain the payments that they’re eligible for, or a job they can go.”

Calls for ‘targeted and flexible’ financial supports

On top of those support measures coming to an end, the Federal Government’s $150 million funding boost to the domestic violence support sector will end at the end of June.

In the face of renewed economic hardship, Daniel is calling for “targeted and flexible” financial support for women leaving domestic and family violence — and a continual focus on women aged over 55, who face homelessness at an increasing rate.

Women facing extreme rental distress have been urged to contact their local women’s legal service or community legal centre, many of which offer ancillary services like financial counselling.

Anyone experiencing family violence can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 for counselling and support services.

Those facing immediate harm are advised to call police on 000.

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