Peak homelessness bodies, family violence specialists and sexual assault services joined forces in a new and urgent call for the City of Perth to delay the closure of its Safe Night Space service – at least until after the Christmas season.
The call came on the eve of the annual 16 days of activism for domestic violence, and in the wake of new data showing record demand for services like Safe Night Space, which is operated by Ruah Community Services and supports up to 30 women every night.
Family violence is the leading cause of homelessness among women and most women turning to Safe Night Space for help are not only without a safe place to spend the night but have also experienced violence and abuse – either on the streets, or in the home from which they've escaped.
The service is due to close this week - on 30 November - and the City of Perth has so far resisted calls to allow Safe Night Space the use of its East Perth location for another two years. The service has secured operating funding from the WA government but, despite a relentless search, has not been able to secure an alternate location.
Shelter WA and the Centre for Women's Safety and Wellbeing say it looks like this festive season will be anything but a cause for celebration for the growing number of women on Perth streets.
Shelter WA chief executive, Kath Snell, said the latest 'By-Name' list data for October this year show there are a record number of women who are experiencing chronic homelessness (either sleeping rough or temporarily sheltered).
"We understand access to the Safe Space venue is still set to end on 30 November. We are grateful the State Government has committed to $3.1m of funding to keep this service operating," she said.
"The City of Perth has done an amazing job for over two years by providing the space and support for the Safe Night Space pilot. Every indicator and evaluation shows it was an overwhelming success – we're saying this is the time to build on that success and keep the doors open until a more permanent location is found.
"We are asking for a Christmas miracle - and pleading for the Lord Mayor and City of Perth to please let the service operate in the same premises at least over the Christmas, period – and until a suitable alternate location can be found.
"Given the latest data revealed today, the worsening crises in homelessness and housing, and the rising incidence of family and domestic violence here in WA, we are also calling for all levels of government to work together to ensure not only that this vital space does not close, but that the level of funding and number of safe spaces across the state are adequate to meet the increasing need.
"We are also emboldened by the huge response from the local community who are desperate to see this vital service remain open. No one wants to see a refuge that literally saves lives and provides a safe place for women who have nowhere else to go, close – especially over Christmas."
A total of 525 women were experiencing chronic homelessness (either sleeping rough or temporarily sheltered) in Perth in October 2023. This included 269 women who are rough sleeping and another 256 who are temporarily sheltered.
The number of women sleeping rough – 249 in September and 269 in October - are the two highest figures since the By Name List started in 2019.
Centre for Women's Safety and Wellbeing CEO Alison Evans said support services were bracing for an even bigger increase in the next few months. December and January have long been the busiest time of year for specialist family, domestic and sexual violence, violence support services and for the WA Police Force.
Ms Evans noted that Saturday, 25 November, marked the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
"Refuges and Safe Houses across our metro and regional areas are overflowing. There are only 47 refuges and Safe Houses in WA (23 in the metro area), and they are struggling with overwhelming demand – we need more refuges and shelters to cope with current demand, not less," she said.
"Some 66 per cent of the women accessing the Safe Night Space are impacted by family and domestic violence. This year at 58 women have died due to male violence. There are countless more living in fear. The closure of this vital space will put more women back onto the streets – or back to the violent homes they were escaping – and at serious risk of violence and abuse.
"The 16 Days in WA campaign asks us all to play our part in ending violence against women. All levels of government have a part to play in ending homelessness and violence against women. I implore the City of Perth and newly re-elected Lord Mayor, Basil Zempilas to step up and play their part by keeping the doors open at the Safe Night Space so that victim survivors can access the support and safety they need at the time they need it.
"We know, through experience, that we will see a spike of about 30 per cent in demand from women experiencing family and domestic violence over the Christmas period," she said.
New data obtained from the By Name List for October 2023 and released by Shelter WA and the Women's Centre for Safety and Wellbeing late last week shows the increasing and record number of women who are experiencing chronic homelessness (either sleeping rough or temporarily sheltered), providing an even more compelling reason to keep the Safe Night Space open.
A petition to save the space is online.