Funding cuts put Beryl Women's Shelter at risk of closing
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Funding cuts put Beryl Women's Shelter at risk of closing

A victim of domestic violence was nearly deported because an understaffed Canberra women's shelter almost missed the Immigration department's reporting deadlines.

Beryl Women's Shelter staff say there is a "significant risk" it may be forced to shut due to funding cuts and an increased demand for their services.

Manager of Beryl's Women Shelter, Robyn Martin.

Manager of Beryl's Women Shelter, Robyn Martin.

Photo: Jamila Toderas

Its staff wrote to an ACT parliamentary inquiry into government responses to domestic violence claiming the ACT Specialist Homelessness Services funding model is "inadequate and overwhelmed by demand".

The shelter is funded under the National Affordable Housing Agreement, which is matched by the ACT government.

This has left specialist domestic and family violence services "struggling to remain fully effective and viable", because their funding is linked to their homeless services, their submission said.

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"A range of work done by these services is not captured, or recognised [under this funding model], particularly preventative work, such as community outreach, information sharing and awareness raising," it reads.

"Yet there is a wide body of evidence highlighting the long term cost benefit of these preventative activities. If specialist services are not adequately supported to remain viable, it is likely there will be reduction in specialist services, resulting in an increased future cost to the ACT government."

The submission said the shelter received a 32 per cent funding cut over a three-year period with no change in their number of clients.

Beryl Women's Shelter manager Robyn Martin said they had to lay off two staff members because of the cuts.

"The funding cuts happened four years ago but we are now feeling the direct impact of that," Ms Martin said.

"We managed when it first happened but things have changed since then. We are stretched."

Ms Martin said the number of women from linguistically or culturally diverse backgrounds seeking help from the shelter had risen by 41 per cent in the past year.

She believed the increase was because of greater awareness, but it "strained" their resources.

"We've never had such a high demand from that particular group of women in the past," Ms Martin said.

"The women might have no immigration status here, they may not be entitled to income depending on what visa they're on. If they don't have a visa that allows them some sort of income, we end up supporting them as well."

Ms Martin said their remaining staff were being "stretched beyond capacity".

"When that happens there's potential for deadlines to be missed. There have been times we've nearly missed deadlines we're so busy," Ms Martin said.

"We haven't had any lulls this year, there's been no downtime, no time to take a breath, we're constantly moving, constantly on the go.

"It's scary because it means a woman could be deported. It did come to a point here where we nearly did miss a deadline and she would have been deported."

If the shelter shut, it would mean the end of Australia's longest running domestic violence refuge.

It would also place pressure on Canberra's remaining shelters, which are also facing increased demand.

ACT minister for housing and women Yvette Berry commended the work Beryl did with women and children and said she was "concerned" by their submission.

Government figures showed Beryl Women Inc received an extra $300,000 in the past three financial years to support the increasing number of children accessing the services.

"I have met with Beryl a number of times and will seek a further conversation with them in light of these comments," Ms Berry said.

"In the three years I've been housing and women's minister I have constantly been calling for more secure joint government funding into these services. Beryl receives funding under the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness [which is joint Commonwealth and territory-funded] although from June next year this will roll into a broader housing agreement for which we have very little information from the Commonwealth."

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.