Local women escaping domestic and family violence could have somewhere to go if a new working group manages to land a share in NSW Government funding announced last month.
The group, initiated by the Southern Highlands Greens this week, hope to explore ways that the community, council and governments can work together to improve women's safety services in the Highlands.
"It's been years since we had a refuge providing specialist support for women escaping abuse in the Highlands," said Heather Champion, co-convenor of the Southern Highlands Greens.
"We have some wonderful local support services that work very hard but they are underfunded, their scope is limited and they aren't able to provide crisis accommodation.
"Funding cuts took women's accommodation services away from regional communities, and now we have a chance to get them back."
The funding consists of a $480 million package designed to help survivors of domestic violence, including finance for 75 new women's refuges across the state.
Ms Champion and Greens co-convenor Maree Byrne met with Wingecarribee Shire Council interim administrator Viv May and general manager Lisa Miscamble on Tuesday to discuss how they can secure the funding and make sure it best serves local women's needs.
The group hope to "start a conversation" and draw in other interested parties to put together a grant submission.
"We're hoping to get the ball rolling a bit," Ms Byrne said.
"We want to try to get a community conversation going between agencies and the community - our aim is to promote the converstion."
She said that council had committed to facilitate a meeting in the new year between the relevant agencies and service providers.
Ms Champion pointed out that the lack of specialist services and crisis accommodation in the area has meant many women who have taken the brave step of escaping violence have nowhere to go.
"The issue might be hidden, but it's huge," she said.
"One Moss Vale woman I've been speaking with has seen the need for help grow so much that she decided to start hosting women in her own home.
"She knows many other women who have had no choice but to sleep in their cars.
"Domestic violence happens in all kinds of families in all walks of life, and we know it happens here.
One Moss Vale woman I've been speaking with has seen the need for help grow so much that she decided to start hosting women in her own home. She knows many other women who have had no choice but to sleep in their cars.Heather Champion
"It's about time we made sure that our friends, sisters, mothers and daughters have a better chance of escaping abusive situations and finding safety."
Ms Champion, who has been involved with NGOs that deal with women's safety for many years, said she hoped the group would coordinate support for people who work in the area.
"The dedication and the amount of effort that people who work in front line sercives is phenomenal, but they are still underfunded," she said.
"It's a national crisis, and the more support we can get for those services the better."
Domestic and family violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness for women and children in Australia.
Despite this, according to Annabelle Daniel, chair of Domestic Violence NSW, more than half of all the women who seek safety in a refuge are turned away because there isn't enough space.
Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety indicates that around 60 percent of women escaping domestic violence will experience housing stress when they separate from their abuser.
They also highlight a lack of safe and affordable housing options as a key problem facing regional and rural areas.
"With housing costs rising sharply around the Highlands, it's likely that women will have even more trouble finding safe accommodation now and in the future," said Ms Champion.
You can get in touch with the Women's Refuge Working Group by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
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