Jennifer * vividly remembers the moment she tearfully arrived at a crisis accommodation center in a small regional Queensland town with nothing but the clothes she was wearing and her dog in her arms.
After suffering domestic abuse at the hands of her ex-partner for close to a decade, she finally fled her home.
She remains there more than a year later, a stone’s throw away from where her abuser lives, because of a statewide housing crisis.
In a town where everyone knows everyone, Jennifer still sees him frequently.
“It’s not a wise decision, you’re just going to end up antagonizing everybody.”
Jennifer said her ex-partner kept her isolated during their relationship, with no real friends or connections in his hometown, which made her decision to leave the abusive relationship incredibly difficult.
“[When I was with him there was] 12 months where the furthest I went was out to the mailbox to check the mail every day, I just had no ability to go any further, “she said.
Small town concerns
Steps are underway to criminalize coercive control in Queensland and 8,641 police officers have so far completed the relevant training implemented at the end of January.
Domestic and family violence support Full Stop Australia chief executive Hayley Foster said Jennifer’s situation was not uncommon in regional Australia.
“But that is much, much worse when you’re in a regional remote area because it’s a close-knit community [and] there are relationships that are at play. “
According to federal government statistics, family and domestic violence is the main reason women and children leave their homes in Australia.
Jennifer is thankful to have a bed in an emergency shelter and said the staff had been extraordinary.
“[But] their housing has become so scarce that had this happened now, they wouldn’t have been able to put me up at all, and I would have been either having to go back to him or [be] living on the streets, “she said.
Jennifer is trying to get back to south-east Queensland to be closer to her family, friends and support systems.
But getting work to afford a private rental has been made more difficult by health issues.
In the meantime, she’s on an extensive waitlist for social housing in south-east Queensland.
“If I got work here, then I would be considered [by the housing department] able to afford private rental, although I wouldn’t be able to afford private rental on a single casual wage or whatever it would be, “she said.
Ms Foster said Jennifer was one of 160,000 women and children who faced homelessness because of domestic and family violence each year in Australia.
“The vast majority of that occurs in a regional and remote setting,” Ms Foster said.
More investment needed
The federal government committed $ 1.3 billion over six years in the budget for women’s safety, including $ 240 million to extend the Escaping Violence Payment and $ 172 million in the Safe Places program.
But Ms Foster said it was still short of what was needed.
“Combined with the previous $ 1.1 billion [budget spend]this takes us up to around a little bit over half-a-billion-dollar spend each year. [But] we have been calling for a $ 1 billion investment per year as a minimum, so we’re still not there “she said.
Full Stop Australia has joined the national Unhoused campaign, which calls for increased funding of $ 7.6 billion to provide 16,810 new permanent homes for women, as per the recommendation by the Equity Economics Nowhere to Go report.
A spokesperson for federal Women’s Safety Minister Anne Ruston said on top of the budget measures, the government would also provide $ 9 billion in housing support.
Labor, meanwhile, has promised to establish a new Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Commissioner if it wins next month’s federal election.
It also pledged $ 1.6 billion to build 4,000 new social housing properties and $ 100 million towards crisis and transitional housing options for women and children fleeing domestic and family violence.
At a state level, the Queensland government recently announced $ 2.9 billion for 6,300 new government houses.
It has also built seven shelters in Queensland since 2015, and there is $ 34 million in state funding to be spent this year on shelter support.
For Jennifer, greater housing investment by all levels of government cannot come soon enough.
“We need to prioritize housing for people in crisis situations, whether it’s domestic violence, or recent floods, or any other situation like that,” she said.
* Name changed for privacy reasons
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