Thursday 27 October 2016

Carol Hunt: We waste millions but leave beaten women on the street

Elaine Burnett, Manager of Cuan Alainn. Springfield, Tallaght, Dublin
Elaine Burnett, Manager of Cuan Alainn. Springfield, Tallaght, Dublin

Can there be anything worse than finding yourself homeless?

Living on the streets, trailing from soup kitchen to begging box, wondering if you'd be safer risking the cold of the night rather than the potential violence of a homeless shelter?

How about if you're a woman fleeing from violence, trying to keep yourself and children safe while you seek a bed for the night?

You not only have the stress of life on the streets, but you're also a victim of domestic violence and you are responsible for the care of your children.

It's hard to think that homelessness can be made worse, but add children to the mix and we have the makings of utter catastrophe.

This is why I, like many others, am stunned at the news that yet another refuge centre, this time Cuan Alainn in Tallaght, has been told that it won't get funding from the State next year.

Tusla, the child and family agency, has no money for it, as it's critically short of funding itself. And so the Tallaght refuge will have to close on December 18, just before Christmas, when domestic violence against women and children reaches its annual high.

As a result there will be no room at the inn for many women and their children fleeing violence in that area this Christmas.

Since it opened three years ago over 1,000 people have passed through Cuan Alainn's doors. The refusal to fund it echoes the fate of other women's refuge organisations up and down the country, who have been devastated by cuts to their funding.

Women's Aid, the domestic violence support group, saw 20pc slashed in its funding from Tulsa last June.

Last year Women's Aid dealt with 16,000 reports of domestic abuse against women and 6,000 against children. If anything its meagre funding needed to be substantially increased.


Meanwhile this week's report from the Comptroller and Auditor General revealed that millions of our tax euros have been wasted by ineptitude on the part of Government departments.

It goes without saying that no-one will be made accountable for such waste - but refuges like Cuan Alainn will suffer as they're told that there's no cash left for them.

In the first quarter of this year nearly 80pc of women trying to escape domestic violence were turned away from Dublin refuges because of the housing crisis in the city. Women - and in one case a small child - were given sleeping bags instead.

This, then, is what our much-vaunted recovery has to offer our most vulnerable citizens. What type of society are we that we can clap ourselves on the back about our wonderful economic growth while simultaneously taking from women and children who live in fear of returning to their homes?

Is there a mentality of "Well, technically they're not really homeless, are they? There's a bed there for them if they just keep their mouths shut?" Because that's what it looks like from this perspective.

Last year's Garda Inspectorate report showed some guards called to domestic abuse situations allegedly made comments like: "there's two of them in it", "just don't annoy him and he won't come back" and "let him sleep it off".

Just last June a UN committee stated that Ireland was falling short of its obligations under international law to protect the rights of women affected by domestic violence.

The committee recommended that Ireland take the necessary steps to rectify this, including strengthening support services for victims and introducing a Domestic Violence Bill.

So what do we do? We cut supports even further. Of those women who are lucky enough to get into a refuge last year, only one in 10 moved to private rented accommodation in the first quarter of the year.

Sickeningly, over a quarter of them had to return to an abusive partner.

But where else can they go? As a society we are failing victims of domestic violence abysmally.

"Women and children who experience domestic violence are a unique group within the homeless population, their houses are not safe", Sharon O'Halloran of SAFE Ireland has said.

So why are we refusing to fund shelters for them? It's unacceptable. We should hang our heads in shame.

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