Safe havens in The Hills
Assisted by Madison Kelly
The need for increased transitional housing for those escaping domestic violence is always present, however ratepayers are hesitant for their costs to provide for this. One local Council, The Hills Shire Council, has come up with a potential solution to the problem.
Acknowledging that while “transitional housing is a problem that the state and federal governments cannot solve,” the Council has said that “council and willing developers, absolutely can.”
The Council has come up with a way to potentially outsource this hefty task - at no cost to ratepayers. The initiative, steered by Mayor Yvonne Keane, has received unanimous support from the Council and involves providing developers with bonus floor space if they include transitional housing in their developments.
NSW Police Detective Chief Inspector, Jim Bilton, said that police responded to 245 reports of domestic violence in The Hills in the past year, which equates to approximately five a week. Under this initiative, if 500 apartments are built in the local government area and one per cent of these are reserved for transitional housing, five families fleeing domestic violence will benefit. Councillor Jeff Lowe described the decision to approve the policy as a “no brainer.”
Currently, there is a women’s shelter in The Hills which opened in 2016 as a crisis accommodation house, The Sanctuary. Elicha Reitsma (Human Resources) and Malcolm Gittoes- Caesar (Family Law) are both involved with The Sanctuary on a volunteer basis, assisting to ensure that these women are supported and not placed in a position that places them back with their abusers. This new policy will allow women and children currently living at The Sanctuary (and in other similar crisis accommodation) to move into transitional housing in their local community so that, firstly, they do not have to go back to their abusers, and secondly, do not need to leave the area or disrupt their children’s lives any more so by pulling them out of their schools and peer networks.
With affordable housing in The Hills being such a scarcity and typically unattainable for newfound single mothers, a lack of transitional housing makes re-establishing themselves after separation difficult. This means victims of abuse often feel they have no other option but to either remain with or go back to their abusers.
Since this initiative has been floated, other councils have been in touch to find out how they can introduce a similar policy in their local government area which is great news for women and children in domestic violence situations who are living outside of The Hills.
Maria Kovacic from The Hills Community Aid put it simply, “Once you give a woman the opportunity to rebuild her life… that breaks the cycle.”