The Canberra community funds more crisis accommodation for women at imminent risk who are escaping family violence than the ACT government.
The revelation comes as the Domestic Violence Crisis Service marks 30 years of operation over which time they have seen a huge increase in clients, but not in funding.
For three decades the Domestic Violence Crisis Service has been serving the ACT community to help keep women and children - who make up the majority of their clients - safer.
In the past 10 years their demand has increased by 196 per cent. In the 2006/07 financial year the team responded to 8977 incoming contacts, which rose to 26,600 in 2016/17.
But according to service chief executive Mirjana Wilson the most significant funding increase in decades happened last year, as a result of the horror 2015 Canberra had with domestic violence deaths.
Last year, the government committed $200,000 annually for the next four years to the crisis service, and $200,000 more for the staff to implement a men’s behavioural change program.
“It’s not much, given we’ve tripled in demand,” Ms Wilson said.
She said an ongoing “bugbear” was the government funding of $40,000 for emergency motel accommodation for people who need to leave immediately.
That figure only lasts the service up to five months, and they then rely on community donations to prop them up for the rest of the year.
Ms Wilson said after 2015, when four people died from domestic violence in three months, the service experienced “a year of unprecedented demand”.
“I remember by the time the fourth person in our community died it was like ‘oh my god, is this ever going to stop’,” Ms Wilson said.
“Now that we look back, everything spiked.
“We haven’t come back down to pre-2015 levels, but thankfully it hasn’t continued because [that level of demand] would have been unsustainable.”
She said during that period, she was dealing with a team of people who were tired.
“When you have such a huge number of deaths in a tiny community such as ours in a small period of time, you start to second guess if you’re doing all the right things, if you’re saying all the right things, is that person really truly going to be OK.”
“At the end of the day, we can’t actually necessarily guarantee their safety and that’s the hard bit about working in this work. We have no magic wand, we can’t wave it and make that situation better.”
Ms Wilson said the job was all about working with that person to find out what would keep them safe and plan for that.
“One of the things we have learnt is that for every tool or every safety measure we have to go ... will it make it worse or will it make it better. A classic example of that is protection orders.”
While demand increased, Ms Wilson said it was difficult to say if there was more domestic violence in the community now or if it was just a growing awareness of the problem.
“I think the more we’ve brought it into the mainstream, the more people are coming forward. I think it was just a very private thing, and it really started to get out there and when we made it a crime, when we said this is unacceptable behaviour.”
The crisis service employs 48 staff across six distinct programs. The programs include a 24-hour a day telephone crisis line, frontline workers, programs for women and children, and the newly implemented men’s behavioural change program.
Ms Wilson said 20 years ago women were coming to the service saying they didn’t want to leave their relationship but they wanted the violence to stop.
“How do you provide a response to that? There wasn’t much we could do,” Ms Wilson said. At that point, the focus was on getting women out of the house, into emergency motel accommodation and then into a refuge.
“Fast-forward to now, we’re going well what are we doing with that? Where does that man go and what is there for him? That’s why we moved towards starting a program for men’s behavioural change, to work with them to address their use of violence and controlling behaviour while also supporting the women and children at the same time.”
Ms Wilson said the crisis service's journey, which she has been part of for 14 years, could be divided into three decades. The first decade was all about recognising that domestic violence needed a response other than for women to flee to refuges. The second decade saw police charging people, the introduction of legislation and personal protection orders. And in the third decade, it’s the realisation that the whole family needs help.
“Not necessarily to stay together, but if they're going to stay together what does that look like, or if they’re going to separate then what does that look like,” Ms Wilson said.
“Safety and risk across the three decades has been the primary focus, but really what we've been moving towards more and more is that we can't just keep mopping up the damage by working with the women and children.”
Former ACT Victims of Crime commissioner John Hinchey was involved with the service heavily during his time in Canberra, including as a board member for five years.
He said 30 years was a significant milestone for any community organisation particularly given the constant uncertainty with funding.
“A lot of time and effort is taken up in securing funding and then fulfilling the requirements for those funding arrangements and then seeking more funding,” Mr Hinchey said.
“I think for DVCS to survive 30 years and that it’s getting stronger as an organisation, that’s for two reasons.
“The passion and commitment of its staff is one thing … and also the capacity to seek what’s best for its clients, not for itself.”
Mr Hinchey said specialist organisations like the crisis service were the ones that needed greater supporter because they give voice to the most vulnerable.
“They’re the ones we need to ensure they have funding and they have the funding to plan for their future.”
Beryl Women’s Refuge manager Robyn Martin said it was “negligent” of the government not to fund the whole amount for emergency accommodation for women fleeing violence.
She said the service did a “fantastic job”, and plenty of people in the community were waiting with bated breath to see the results of the men’s behaviour change program they were now running.
‘They’re always at the forefront of what’s in the best interests of the women and children that either they or we are supporting,” Ms Martin said.
An ACT government spokesman congratulated the crisis service on its 30 years of service to the community.
He said there were a range of homelessness services that provided support to victims of domestic and family violence, including the Beryl and Doris refuges.
"The ACT government has been working very closely with the service sector that supports families and women, who are impacted by domestic and family violence and will continue to do so," the spokesman said.
"The work that has been undertaken over the last 12 months in particular to co-design and develop a new family safety hub will also contribute greatly to ensuring future decisions around services and funding are made with evidence and consultation with the right stakeholders."