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High rental prices force Canberra's domestic violence victims into homelessness

High rental prices and a critical shortage of crisis accommodation has meant a surging number of women and children fleeing family violence in the ACT face homelessness.

Support workers said increased demand for services and a lack of suitable housing had strained women's refuges and the public housing system and compromised the amount of long-term support offered to victims.  

They were speaking ahead of a forum that will look at the broader human rights impacts of domestic violence and homelessness to mark International Human Rights Day in Canberra on Wednesday.

Homelessness Australia chief executive Glenda Stevens said women who experienced homelessness and domestic violence faced a range of human rights violations and both problems affected their sense of safety, self-worth and social inclusion.

"Eliminating violence against women will drastically reduce the number of people experiencing homelessness.

"Both domestic violence and homelessness contravene human rights – rights our governments have a right to protect under international law."


About 15 per cent of women cited domestic violence as the main reason they sought support from specialist homelessness agencies in 2012-13, according to an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report into homelessness.

ACT Domestic Violence Crisis Service executive director Mirjana Wilson said the territory's high cost of living and rental prices meant most domestic violence victims in need of accommodation were funnelled into public housing, which was unsustainable.

"I am aware that Housing ACT is trying to explore other options but we just have such high numbers, it's a huge social issue and it's complex.

"There's no one-size fits all, we can't just force all women to leave and we can't just force all women to stay at home."

Ms Wilson said homelessness affected women who fled their home to escape a violent partner, as well as those who might stay at home after the perpetrator was removed.

"She then ends up having to manage a mortgage, finance, childcare and all those things she might have relied on a partner for."

It was common for women to cycle in and out of crisis accommodation and homelessness as they made multiple attempts to leave their partner.

Ms Wilson said a shortage of adequate emergency housing meant the centre's support staff generally turned to hotel accommodation to house women and families, often for one or two nights but sometimes for up to a week.

"You could jag a time when there is a space in a women's refuge, but more often than not there isn't."

ACT Shelter executive officer Travis Gilbert said significant funding cuts meant the ACT's refuge workers had been forced to do more with less. 

"One of the biggest issues we're facing in the ACT is that shelters faced 23 per cent funding cuts earlier this year, but I understand they're still required to offer the same number of beds."

He said the only solutions were for women to find affordable private rental accommodation or stay in crisis accommodation for longer periods. 

Ms Wilson said that meant refuge staff were often limited to providing crisis response and unable to offer adequate long-term support for women and children. 

A range of potential solutions had been trialled overseas, including extra rental support to help women to stay in their own homes and different community housing models, she said.

Ms Wilson welcomed the louder national conversation taking place on domestic violence but said that needed to be met with adequate government funding and resources to help a growing number of women coming forward. 

Mr Gilbert called on the federal government to provide ongoing funding through the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness and to treat housing as a core social issue, similar to health or education.

He supported the legislative right to housing, but acknowledged there were "pros and cons" to such laws.  

ACT Human Rights and Discrimination Commissioner Helen Watchirs will raise the possible inclusion of a right to housing at a panel discussion on the future of human rights protection on Wednesday.