The heart of the refuge

The heart of the refuge

By Penny Lewis, Journalist

Clearing away make-do office furniture from Shine’s North Shore refuge was one of the first things Tanya did when she came on board as manager two years ago. Tanya was keen to make the house feel more like a home for the women and children who come to the refuge.

“When I first went there, it was lovely, with a massive playground put in by Rotary. It was nice, but it was filled with donated office furniture and wasn’t very homely.” Tanya says it was important to create an environment where clients would be welcomed and supported – a place where they could feel as comfortable as possible.

“The rule was if I didn’t want my kids to sit on it, eat off it or wear it, then it wasn’t going to be there,” she recalls.

“Our part of the house was very office-like and clinical – it could have been an accountant’s firm. I needed the transition because a woman comes here in one of the worst possible moments in her life – and when she walks into that room I don’t want it to be like I’m sitting behind a desk with a clipboard.”

Out went the desk and in came a dining table and chairs, a lounge suite, a big rug and toys for the children. “We also set up a counselling room so that we could facilitate counselling, clinical psychologist appointments and adult safety programmes inside the refuge,” Tanya says. Before that, women had to go elsewhere to access these services and they would often be scared.

Because of the difference Shine and the refuge make in women’s lives, Tanya describes her role as the best job she’s ever had in her whole life. “I wish I’d started it years and years ago.” Her path towards Shine started while working for the police for nearly a decade as a non-sworn member of the communications team. From there, she joined Shine as an advocate in the family harm team.

From these roles Tanya knew the processes and had a good sense of the initial stages of DV. “The wider picture became apparent – what are a family violence victim’s needs? What are her kids’ needs? How were they getting – or not getting – those needs met?”

“Then the job came up within Shine to run their North Shore refuge and I thought instantly this is my platform. You get the opportunity to be face-to-face with people and that is really important. There is nothing like being able to see raw emotion on people’s faces and really be able to understand what they’re going through.” 

Support for Shine’s clients starts before they arrive at the refuge. Whenever possible, Tanya and her team will collect women from wherever they are to keep them safe.

“When they come to us, 90 per cent of them have nothing. They’ve got the clothes they’re wearing and they’re hanging on to their kids, so they’re literally walking in with the clothes on their backs. It’s very unusual for them to have any money whatsoever. And they’re exhausted and confused and just physically and psychologically at the. They’re women from every single walk of life. The most important thing is that we get them to the refuge and we get her and her kids safe. That’s number one and we deal with everything after that.”

Seeking donations of money and goods is a huge part of Tanya’s job, helping women with the everyday things we often take for granted. Speaking of a typical client, Tanya says “she’s got enough on her plate without worrying whether she can scrounge seven bucks to get a box of tampons at the supermarket. We can’t help her do the best thing for herself if she’s constantly worried if she and her children are going to eat, or whether the kids need to go to the doctor. She can’t start to heal and she can’t start the process of getting out of a really violent relationship if she’s constantly worried about the 50 other things she has to take of”.

Tanya and her team help each client with “whatever it takes to get her to a space where she can make a really informed decision about the choices she’s going to make for the rest of her life. When they get time to heal and time to work on themselves, then they make good choices. It’s not hard work – we just have to give them the opportunity to do it.”

“We’re not there to tell her what to do; we’re there to support her in the choices she makes, regardless of what they are. Sometimes they’re not ones that we like so we have to support her and put safety around her in the decisions that she’s making.”

Shine welcomes women and their children at the refuge for as long as they need to be there. “Some women who have come out of the refuge require a lot more time than four weeks in there, but they have actually succeeded. They have new private accommodation, full-time work, they’re back in the community and they’re looking after themselves. They understand the impact of DV really well and they know it’s not something they can go back to.”

The refuge receives support from individuals, organisations and businesses and more is always welcome. “I never say no to anything – that’s my golden rule. We’ve got people who donate some amazing stuff to us.”

A large storage company provides space for Tanya to store donated household items. “When my ladies leave and they get a new place, we put what we’ve got into her new house. That might be a washing machine and a fridge. Because when they go into a new place it’s great for Work & Income to say ‘yep, we’re going to help you out’, but once they’ve kitted her out she owes them a lot of money. She might be DV-free but now she’s drowning in debt. If there is one thing that makes women not able to cope, it’s money. Quite often they will go back because it’s too hard financially to be on their own and they will put up with the DV because of it.” 

The generosity of people, organisations and businesses that support Shine with money and goods is crucial and makes such a difference to women’s lives.

Shine’s support for its clients doesn’t stop when women leave the refuge and are living in the community again. Tanya and her team are still there for them. “Absolutely,” says Tanya. “They don’t get rid of me that easily.”

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Photo: Tanya picks up a bike for 4-year-old at refuge last Christmas. With special thanks to Woven Earth and Bike Barn. Photo credit: Woven Earth
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