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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Eden Gillespie

Pressure mounts on Queensland’s domestic violence refuges as housing crisis bites

A young boy being held by his mother with his head resting on her shoulder, looking down a suburban street
Lack of available housing also means refuges sometimes have to turn domestic violence victims away to prioritise those who are most at risk. Photograph: Christopher Hopefitch/Getty Images

A sturdy wooden fence and security cameras fortify the Brisbane refuge where Ksenia* and her six-year-old daughter, Nyura*, have lived for the past 10 months.

Camouflaged between brick homes and a cluster of trees, the refuge sits on a quiet suburban street.

Inside, children run around a purple slippery dip. The staff are friendly, making an effort to remember everyone’s names. But it’s not home.

“We can’t bring people over or tell anyone where we live,” Ksenia says. “I’m grateful for what I have, but I want to move out of the refuge and find an independent place.”

Here in the refuge, Ksenia and her daughter are safe from their abuser. But they see no path out.

With a weekly income of $450, Ksenia says she and her daughter would be sleeping rough without the centre’s support.

“I have to pay for after-school care and my bills. I don’t make enough money at the moment [to move] but I’m trying my best,” she says.

“To make a step and walk away with nowhere [to go] and with a child, it’s difficult.”

Ksenia moved from Ukraine to Australia several years ago after meeting her now ex-partner, who is a New Zealand citizen.

Her current visa gives her no rights to Medicare, Centrelink or childcare benefits.

Ksenia began to experience physical, financial and emotional abuse after she moved to Australia. She was extremely vulnerable, with no support network and a limited ability to speak English well.

“Last December, he took a wooden spoon and hit Nyura twice on the back. I tried to get the spoon from him and protect her. He slapped me very strongly on the side of my face. After this, for two months, I had a very strong headache,” she says.

“He’s choked me, he’s told me: ‘You’re only allowed to be in this country because I’m with you … You will be deported to Ukraine if I call immigration.’

“I was thinking, ‘What can I do? I don’t have support, I don’t have money.’”

As Queensland grapples with a housing crisis, refuges are packed with vulnerable families like Ksenia’s.

Save the Children – which now operates under the name 54 Reasons in Australia – runs seven refuges across the state. All of them are full of families needing urgent accommodation and support.

The need for more crisis accommodation is a common talking point. But Mena Waller, the Queensland state director at 54 Reasons, also wants long-term solutions put on the table at Thursday’s housing summit.

“A big part of being able to transition families into safe, secure and sustainable homes is the availability of housing,” she says. “You can’t transition someone into a house that doesn’t exist.”

Waller says more social and affordable housing must be specifically designated for women and children who are escaping domestic violence.

“Women who access these services … are having to choose between living in an unsafe environment and becoming homeless with their children,” Waller says.

“This is a particularly difficult situation when secure housing is a factor in the assessment of whether children remain … with family through a child protection lens.”

Women’s House Shelta estimates they have more than 300 women and children currently across 13 refuges who are ready to leave but have no options to do so.

Julia Dawson, who works at Women’s House Shelta, says refuge stays are becoming longer due to women having limited exit options and complex visa issues.

“With the pressure to find accommodation, women are also returning to the violent relationships they left because separating has become too hard,” she says.

Dawson says the housing crisis is so severe that the shelter is receiving calls from women who are not experiencing violence but are on the edge of homelessness and have nowhere to go.

The lack of available housing also means they sometimes have to turn domestic violence victims away to prioritise those who are most at risk.

“Any woman who’s experiencing domestic violence needs support … But we have to prioritise those who are really high-risk, which means that other women who suffer silently just can’t leave.”

Chantal Eastwell, another worker at the shelter, says the refuges were initially set up to house women and children for about 12 weeks before they moved on to long-term housing.

“Lots of women living with us don’t need to be case-managed by services for a long period of time; they actually need an affordable place to live and to be allowed to get on with life,” Eastwell says.

“We need to build more public housing. It’s not a kind of rocket science.”

With the war raging on in Ukraine, Ksenia and her daughter are trapped at the refuge while they agonise over their next steps.

“My family lost work because of the war. They receive $50 a month each for their pension,” Ksenia says. “They’re bombing their city every single day. I can’t return.

“I know I need to leave the refuge. It’s not going to be like this for ever. But I’m doing from my side what I can at this moment.”

*Names have been changed.

  • In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the UK, Samaritans can be contacted on freephone 116 123 and the domestic abuse helpline is 0808 2000 247. In the US, the suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines can be found via

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