Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter is a non-profit, community-funded charity that provides crisis accommodation, counselling, advocacy and other support services for homeless women across Sydney’s Northern Beaches.
Manly Observer spoke to Narelle Hand, Shelter Manager, about the vital community service they provide [see interview below].
On 25 November a Light Up The Night gala charity dinner event was held at Manly Leagues Club to acknowledge and raise funds for 32 Northern Beaches organisations supporting victims of domestic violence.
The statistics of violence against women in Australia have been horrific this year, including 54 women killed since the start of 2023 – an average of more than one a week from 1 January to 31 October.
New law to criminalise Coercive Control
The key speaker at the recent fundraising gala was NSW Police Superintendent Danielle Emerton APM, Commander of the newly-formed NSW Police Force Domestic Violence Register. Supt Emerton revealed new laws will be introduced in 2024 to improve ways of prosecuting and dealing with domestic violence.
From July 2024, Coercive Control will become a criminal offence in NSW. This refers to when a person uses abusive behaviours towards a current or former intimate partner with the intention to coerce or control them.
The criminal offence will cover “repeated patterns of physical or non-physical abuse used to hurt, scare, intimidate, threaten or control someone.”
Unfortunately, the new law will only apply to abusive behaviour documented after it is implemented.
16 Days of Activism.
The gala event, which began with a candlelit vigil to remember victims, and ultimately raised over $12,000 through raffles and donations, also coincided with the launch of 16 Days of Activism for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
Launched in 1991 and overseen by UN Women and supported by both the World Health Organisation, and the International Women’s Development Agency, among many others, this global campaign runs annually from 25 November (the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women) to 10 December (Human Rights Day).
The Light Up The Night fundraiser, attended by local MPs and community leaders, was organised by the Northern Beaches Domestic Violence Network, a community hub that focuses on raising awareness of domestic and family violence, in addition to supporting and empowering victims and those at risk, and further advocating on their behalf.
One of the key groups involved in the Domestic Violence Network is the Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter (NBWS). Shelter Manager Narelle Hand is also chair of the Domestic Violence Network.
However, advocates warned that funding cuts “would have a profound impact on women seeking shelter from domestic violence,” and the funding cut proposal was then rescinded in the April Council meeting.
What is the Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter?
How many women has NBWS helped through crisis accommodation and other support services since its formal opening as Manly Women’s Shelter in 2010?
“Since the Shelter opened in 2010, we have supported 574 women with supported accommodation at Shelter.”
What are the main reasons women come to NBWS for help?
“The main reasons women present at Shelter is that they are either at risk of homelessness or are homeless. This can be caused by Domestic Abuse, Mental Health Issues, Drug and Alcohol, immigration, financial issues, health issues and legal issues.”
As Australia recovers from the Covid pandemic, are we seeing an increase in women needing assistance from services like NBWS?
“COVID was really impactful for not just our service but many of the services on the Northern Beaches. The problem now is that with the housing crisis, rental affordability stress, and economic stress, we are seeing people present to services that we have not seen before due to their current financial situations.”
Are communities working together to alleviate the social problems that result with economic recession, particularly in relation to women?
“The Northern Beaches services are so collaborative. They are a strong network of support for each other with a key focus on supporting the person in need. A perfect example: recently Daniel from CNB [Community Northern Beaches] called my service for a homeless woman at the shelter at Manly Beach who was in crisis. A coordinated effort to go and meet with her meant that by 11am she was in our service.
“This doesn’t happen in other areas, but this area works not in silos but together. Like the NB Council says – ‘better together’ – and that is what we are all striving for. We have also put in joint submissions for grants where there are identified service gaps. This to me proves we are all working together for the common good.”
Networking and collaborating
NBWS is linked to the Women’s Community Shelters [WCS] network. Does NBWS work with other shelters in the Sydney Metropolitan area, such as Hornsby-Ku-Ring-Gai, Bayside and Parramatta?
“We were the founding Shelter, and now our model has been replicated to create more women’s shelters through the WCS network.
“Our Shelter sits under the Women’s Community Shelter Hub which gives us the advantage of tapping into resources, governance, and support as we have a group of nine other shelters in total to partner with which makes our network a strong collective to support many more women and children.
“We work closely with the shelters in close proximity. Hornsby Ku-ring-gai, Bayside, Parramatta and The Sanctuary are strong collaborators of our Shelter. We work together to ensure that the outcomes for women and children are provided.
“Our staff walk side by side with residents on their road to recovery providing the vital connections they need to move forward, and this includes support with income, allied health, psychological support, legal support, groups, community connections and employment.
“We acknowledge each woman’s journey as their own and we only guide support in what they want to see happen in their lives. We offer choice and work in a collaborative way to bring the best outcomes for them.
“We provide equity and equality in our service modelling, and we make sure we tailor the program around the women who come to service. We are not a one size fits all.”
Crisis and prevention
Do we need more crisis shelters for women, or are other services, such as Mission Australia, providing enough accommodation and support to meet demand?
“Sadly, the issues are getting worse and currently in my service on the Northern Beaches we turn away an average of 25 women per month. This is heartbreaking and we do everything we can to find alternative accommodation or services for them, but the accommodation is in such scarce supply that it’s hard to find a vacancy. All services are stretched and nationwide there is a lack of affordable accommodation for everyone – especially people on low incomes.”
What can society do to improve – such as better educating boys and men – particularly in relation to women escaping domestic violence?
“Early intervention and prevention are key for change. Let’s get our young men to be the new voice of change and encourage them to call out, if it is safe to do so, any inappropriate behaviour towards women and girls. All men play an important role in being an active bystander. Men can attend the Mates Bystander programs to help equip them to be an active bystander. Domestic violence is an issue for everyone, not just those who are experiencing it. We all need to name abuse when we see it and help people access appropriate help.”
Anything you’d like to add?
“Our Shelter has been providing support for over 13 years and the one thing I love about our service is that it’s different. It involves bringing the community along on our journey. It doesn’t just work because of our brilliant staff and volunteers. It works because so many people give up their time, give donations, give care, support, and encouragement.
“It takes a village to run our service and there is no greater village support than what we receive at the Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter. So, my final words would be thank you Northern Beaches community, you are the most generous, socially aware and kind hearted community that always makes our women feel loved.”
Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter
Phone: 0451 717 611 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Coercive Control – new criminal legislation in NSW: https://www.nsw.gov.au/family-and-relationships/coercive-control/the-law