WOMEN facing family violence or homelessness are waiting up to 17 months for crisis accommodation as demand surges on the Mornington Peninsula and across the state.
Providers say women victims are the hidden faces of the accommodation and cost-of-living crisis and are often forced to stay in dangerous relationships.
The peninsula has one small crisis accommodation centre in Mornington, but Southern Peninsula Community Support CEO Jeremy Maxwell says it is mainly used for rough sleepers and not suitable for women escaping unsafe situations.
He says many women are forced to stay in violent and unsafe homes because they have nowhere else to go, or after a few weeks of emergency motel accommodation are placed in unsuitable rooming houses and consequently drop down the public housing register.
“These boarding houses they get placed into are often very rugged, there are often drugs and violence, invasion of privacy and intimidation … we have rooming houses that are so bad even our workers won’t go in,” he said.
Maxwell said the rising cost-of-living had increased the number of people seeking accommodation support and family violence in communities.
“Three years ago, it was unusual to see women with children sleeping in cars, but not these days – it’s a case of women having to do anything to leave an unsafe situation,” he said.
While support services were triaging based on people’s vulnerability and need, most services were struggling with too few staff and other support resources.
A NSW crisis and transitional housing provider that recently received money from private donors to expand into the peninsula says much more money is needed as demand grows.
Women’s Community Shelters CEO Annabelle Daniel OAM said the Victorian shelter system was overwhelmed, with 80 per cent of women seeking to leave domestic and family violence accommodated in unsatisfactory motels each night.
Daniel said a number of philanthropic supporters who had “watched our model flourish” in NSW and were keen to see it used around Australia where need was needed for women and children experiencing homelessness and domestic and family violence.
She said the average wait time for women facing violence and needing accommodation, or already homeless, had blown out to 17.1 months – up from 9.9 months three years ago.
Former Blairgowrie resident and former support worker Matilda Buckley has herself faced homelessness and domestic violence and says that once a woman is moved out of crisis accommodation and into a rooming or boarding house, there is little to no support.
“I know of one woman sleeping outside of [a support service in Dandenong] because she wouldn’t go to a rooming house, most of them are so unsafe,” Buckley said.
“These women are already traumatised, many of them have never been in the support system before, and they are sent to a rooming house where they don’t know their rights, they are intimidated and they often have no idea how to navigate their way through.”
Buckley has appealed to the Ombudsman to investigate “exploitative boarding house landlords”.
She said a notorious rooming house in Frankston was investigated by Frankston Council in 2014 but was still providing “unsuitable” accommodation for women who were financially and emotionally damaged from domestic violence.
The council acted after more than 30 residents signed a petition calling for a review of two rooming houses where they alleged there had been “a large increase of criminal activity … and have constant police and ambulance attendances”.
“There is such a need for specialised accommodation to support women leaving family violence situations, many of whom have children,” Buckley said.
“There has to be change in this area, women are not safe, there needs to be a specialised approach to cater for them after what they have often experienced.”
While crisis accommodation is mostly paid for by the state government, the federal government in May announced its budget would provide $3.3 million over three years from 2023-24 to review emergency accommodation services and their suitability for children and to conduct an independent evaluation of the 1800RESPECT service.