Cuts force domestic violence refuge to turn victims away

Thursday, 6 July 2017

HELP for victims of domestic abuse has been seriously affected by the current political impasse at Stormont and that combined with government cutbacks have forced Omagh's Women's Aid shelter to turn victims away, it has been claimed.

That's the stark situation to be outlined in the group's forthcoming annual report and according to local manager, Orla Conway, yesterday the situation has the potential to get even worse.

Women's Aid is the lead voluntary organisation in Northern Ireland addressing domestic violence and providing services for women and children.

Its Omagh refuge was opened in 1987 in response to urgent need for vital support and accommodation to women and children affected by domestic violence in the community.

Ms Conway is afraid that if the stalemate at Stormont continues, the cutbacks will affect what they can offer local women and children in times of crisis.

"Funding is a bit dire at the minute. The homeless sector right across has had a five percent cut in their budget this year. This is a direct cut on the most vulnerable in our society. The Housing Executive fund all the homeless hostels right across Northern Ireland, however that is where they have chosen to put their budget cuts so the homeless sector and families in Omagh and district are suffering.


"I'm sitting here today wondering how best to manage my cut. There will be less support available for women and children, there's no doubt about that. There will be less staff available to carry out the practical and emotional support and less money available for travel. The cuts will be in the region of 8,000 and that's more than you can resolve by cutting travel and training," she said.

The soon-to-be-published figures show that in the year April 2016 to March this year, the Omagh facility provided accommodation for 42 women but it turned away 10 others because it had no space. It also provided accommodation for 29 children during the same period, but again turned away three, again due to lack of space.

"Since January this year we've been very busy. We have a house in Omagh where we can take up to six families at a time but it has been at full capacity all year.

Once a family move out we have a day to turn the room around and there's people waiting to get in." she said.

In its community-based project Omagh Women's Aid provided outreach support to 105 women to help them with emotional and practical situations such as dealing with solicitors and working out situations with financial agencies.


She added the report would also show that the demand for their services from younger women in the 18-25 years old category doubled compared to last year while in the 26-35 age group it was the other way around - seven compared to 16 the year before.

"We have good laws now which make it easier for women to leave but there are financial implications and that can be the biggest barrier. Actual refuge figures show a slight decrease in usage, but there is an overall percentage increase because we have people staying longer. There are more people availing of services over a longer period of time, but definitely there's no drop in demand for our service.

"What we are finding is that overall we are able to accommodate less families a year because families are staying longer. Things are tighter and austerity is biting and families don't have as many move on options as they used to have before

"We are finding a greater demand for our services and we are less able to meet that demand because we don't have the options of moving people on as quickly as we would have done perhaps four or five years ago. When women come to our refuge and spend some time here, we do a lot of work to help them feel safe, help them rebuild their lives.

"When they are ready to move on they look either to the private rented sector, the Housing Executive, maybe property that's available. They may also be going through legal proceedings to get their share of a former home but the availability of social housing has decreased and that's having a knock-back effect and people aren't able to move on as quickly.


"That puts even more pressure on our services. Sometimes we have families in refuge that would love to have their own home but they are on a waiting list and delays regarding funding from Stormont don't help.

Ms Conway added that the homeless sector right across Northern Ireland was coming together to try to lobby and campaign about the cuts and will try to speak to MLAs and MPs about this.

"We hope to get these cuts turned but that's a bit difficult as we don't have Stormont up and running at the moment and that's where all this has come from. There's nobody there to administer it so the government has imposed cuts right across all the departments. In other words austerity and lack of agreement is having a knock-on effect with the provision of our services."

Ms Conway also said she would have an issue about how the Housing Executive had chosen to administer their cut directly on homelessness.

"I think we are hit harder on this side of the province. We have fewer services here in Omagh for example compared to the likes of Belfast. We don't have a lot of specialist services and there's huge pressure on beds for people with addiction problems, young people leaving in care as well as victims of domestic violence - it does make us feel like second class citizens," she said.

On a brighter note the Omagh centre received a cheque for 5,000 from the local branch of the Progressive Building Society on Monday to assist it with its ongoing work. Branch manager, Amanda Williams, who made the presentation, said they were delighted to help while Ms Conway welcomed the assistance saying it would go a long way to helping them continue to provide much needed services in the local community.


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