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Crisis mounts over lack of sanctuary  for victims fleeing domestic violence

Mother and their children fleeing domestic violence have been turned away from the refuge in Omagh for the first time ever.

This crisis in accommodation has been compounded by ongoing complications mothers have been experiencing getting access to the recently introduced new benefits payment system, Universal Credit, and according to the manager of Omagh Women's Aid, Orla Conway, the combination is placing extra strain on all those affected.

Omagh Women’s Aid provide confidential support, information and emergency accommodation for women and children affected by domestic violence. Their refuge was opened in 1987 in response to urgent need for vital support – but has been at full capacity for some time.

Ms Conway confirmed this week that even as late as last week there were two nights where there were no beds available anywhere in Northern Ireland. She said when all places in their refuge were full locally, mothers and their children had been sent to alternative housing in other towns, some of them far away.

"Our refuge has generally been full and as soon as a room becomes available we have a waiting list of people to get in. We try to find them a bed elsewhere but last week there were two nights when there were no beds anywhere else in Northern Ireland. Sometimes people may have to leave town and travel to Coleraine, Derry, Cookstown or Enniskillen to get a place. They then have to wait until there's a vacancy locally. It's a growing trend and new to this area. I haven't seen it in my 20 years here," she said.

Ms Conway said the Omagh refuge facility could accommodate up to six families at a time, but now because the Housing Executive weren't building any more houses, families were staying in their refuge longer.

Staying longer

"When I started we looked after about 50 families a year, that was made up of 50 women and up to 90 children. That number has dropped because people are staying in our refuge longer because they don't have anywhere to move on to, so we're probably now looking at 30 families a year. It's simple, the accommodation isn't here locally. The housing stock isn't here either. What we're finding is that families are staying longer because there's less housing out there for them to move on to.

"Private renting isn't always available to someone relying on housing benefit and some landlords don't like housing benefit and there are also times it doesn't cover the entirety of the rent."

She explained that's when they have to search for accommodation elsewhere.

"We have to ring around other refuges or sometimes the mothers and children affected will stay with family or friends in Omagh. There are no general hostels to help out. In places like a city there might be other hostels, but they mightn't be the safest place and most don't take children," she said.

Full story in this week's Tyrone Constitution.

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