My Friends’ Place Statement
My Friends’ Place Statement: 12th December 2016
Many of you would be aware that My Friends’ Place provide emergency accommodation to women experiencing or at risk of homelessness as a result of domestic violence, abuse, assault or other unsafe living arrangements.
Quite often, we catch the women who do not qualify for refuge because the violence they have experienced has not occurred within a domestic relationship. For example, one of our guests was frightened by the escalating level of violence between two of her housemates in a shared house, so she came to My Friends’ Place. One of our guests was being exploited at work, and not paid for hours she had worked, so she could not afford accommodation and was sleeping in her car.
Our accommodation is for females only (with their children), with support provided by females so there is no threat from within our organisation from males. Our constitution only allows us to assist women and their children.
My Friends’ Place entered into a lease agreement with Horizon Housing earlier this year. It was actually an employee of the Department of Housing at Robina who put is in touch with Horizon Housing.
Since the commencement of our lease, we maintained regular direct contact with Horizon. To ensure they (Horizon) were meeting their requirements with the Department, we responded to and actioned all correspondence and requests to ensure the validity of our agreement.
On the 3rd of October, we were advised by Horizon Housing that the lease we held with them (we have three others elsewhere) was being terminated on the orders of the Department of Housing and Public Works.
We replied directly to Mark McConnell (the author of the termination letter) at the Department of Housing requesting an urgent meeting to discuss their decision and to see how we could work together to achieve a positive outcome for the women residing in the property in question. Our meeting request was denied.
We again requested a meeting, advising Mr McConnell of the urgency and that displacing vulnerable women is not an outcome we will allow. We were advised that their department is “not responsible to us” and again, our request was denied.
We have also, on several occasions, requested a meeting with Shannon Fentiman, Minister for Communities, Women and Youth, Minister for Child Safety and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence. Each request was ignored.
Our Secretary, Kate Armstrong, met with Member for Gaven Sid Cramp to discuss the situation and he immediately took action with a letter sent directly to Mick de Brenni, Minister for Housing and Public Works on 4th November. He too failed to respond to the correspondence. Further correspondence and telephone calls were made to Mr de Brenni by Mr Cramp – more silence.
An article was featured in the Gold Coast Bulletin on Thursday 8th December outlining the department’s decision. We were then approached by Nicole Dyer of ABC Radio (91.7) for an interview to hear our side of the story. Only then did Mr de Brenni show an interest and he too spoke to the station, however, it became increasingly apparent that he had been badly misinformed about My Friends’ Place and its’ operations. In a Press Release dated 9th October 2016, Kate Armstrong said “We were incredibly disappointed with the Minister’s response to the segment”. As Mr de Brenni had failed to return our correspondence and calls, he was incredibly misinformed about the services My Friends’ Place provide, basing his arguments on uneducated assumptions. We were saddened by his attempt to discredit our organisation by commenting on the safety of our guests and unqualified workers. The Press Release made clear that the very Founder of MFP holders a Masters in Social Work, another important fact the Minister would be aware of had he spoken to us.
That same day, My Friends’ Place Founder, Stephanie Cooper, received a phone call from the Minister, clearly unhappy that we had spoken to the media in order to be heard. He, in no uncertain terms, made it quite clear we “should not have” contacted the media. His intimidating and bullying nature only strengthened our resolve to continue to help women in need. We note that had we not spoken out, he would never had responded.
On the 9th December, Mr de Brenni released a statement on his website. We wish to clarify and respond to some of the points raised by Mr de Brenni.
As a White Ribbon Ambassador, I take domestic and family violence incredibly seriously and the safety of women and children always comes first in everything I do.
If this was in fact correct, Mr de Brenni would have responded to us sooner, knowing full well that his decision was displacing already vulnerable women and children. If, in fact, he is so concerned then working together with the organisations providing the services we do would be far more beneficial to the women and children he claims to care, rather than putting up a wall of silence then attempting to intimidate us into backing down.
White Ribbon has a history of appointing entirely inappropriate ambassadors, therefore being an ambassador is a hollow standard to aspire to. Just in case you need reminding;
Hazam El Masri: charged in 2015 with domestic violence offences and removed as White Ribbon Ambassador
Billy Brownless: No longer a White Ribbon Ambassador due to using derogatory and sexist language in 2015
John Elferink: Removed as a White Ribbon Ambassador for saying he was “tempted to slap” a woman in Parliament in 2015
White Ribbon Ambassador Tanveer Ahmed wrote about “male disempowerment” and criticised Rosie Batty in February 2015 yet retained his ambassadorship
We fully appreciate the awareness White Ribbon creates with the many campaigns, spokespeople and events, however, it’s the frontline services that need the funding.
While I have no doubt that My Friends Place is operated on the best of intentions, it is not a recognised or approved domestic violence service.
It is not a registered boarding house provider nor is it operating a facility that meets the standards of an approved domestic violence shelter.
Registration as a boarding house operator or recognition and approval as a domestic and family violence service provider are both important requirements, because they ensure the safety and welfare of people seeking assistance.
Maintaining these standards makes sure that women and children are safe. I have talked with operators of My Friends Place about why the facility they are operating does not meet the standards of a specialist domestic violence shelter or a registered boarding house.
My Friends’ Place is a registered charity with the ACNC with DGR status. We operate with the required insurances and within the relevant legislation. We have a Board and team of volunteers all of whom are required to undergo Police checks and hold Blue Cards. No one from the Department has ever been to see any of our properties in a regulatory capacity so any claims about standards that we do or do not meet have not been backed up with any evidence whatsoever. We meet current legislation standards for emergency and crisis accommodation – which is what we provide.
We also note, that the Minister’s own website applauds themselves for being responsible for 5 recommendations from the Not Now, Not Ever: Putting an End to Domestic and Family Violence in Queensland report.
There are 140 recommendations.
The actions undertaken by the Department have focused on Brisbane and Townsville – there’s no mention of the Gold Coast – http://www.hpw.qld.gov.au/Housing/PartnershipInitiatives/DomesticFamilyViolence/Pages/default.aspx
My Friends’ Place does not enforce a time limit on the period of time women can stay. They need a place to be safe without having to worry about their time being up and being moved on again. We provide that until they are ready to move on. Women may find their own accommodation while others stay with us until they receive Public Housing. We also accommodate women waiting on the Government to organise appropriate visas.
Perhaps if the Government stayed true to the messages they send out in relation to wanting to help in the areas of domestic violence, homelessness and housing, these women wouldn’t be required to stay with us as long as some of them do. It is common knowledge that all the refuges are full, and that there is not enough affordable housing for women to access post refuge so they are left with no option but to stay in the refuge until such time as housing becomes available. Refuges are bed blocked because of the shortage of accommodation available to move into.
If enough safe and affordable accommodation was available in the public or private sector for women needing it, then My Friends’ Place simply would not exist. The fact that we do exist, and that we are full, and that we are having to house women for, in some cases, significant periods of time suggests that the Department of Housing is not doing its job efficiently. If housing was available and/or affordable, we would be empty.
We have requested information from the Department on registering as a refuge. Mr de Brenni provided the contact details of someone that would be able to assist with this and we contacted this person immediately. Unfortunately Mr de Brenni again did not have the correct information and were advised that the contact could not assist us as it was completely out of her domain. She forwarded us on to another contact and we are now awaiting a meeting.
As a result of this and other matters that have come to my attention in recent days, I have today instructed my Department to launch an investigation into unregulated operations in the supported accommodation sector.
This investigation will examine safety and security, potential rent gouging of vulnerable people, misleading and deceptive conduct and most importantly the supervision and welfare of residents.
In regards to investigations already underway into My Friends Place I can confirm that all women who are living there are being offered safe and appropriate accommodation.
We can certainly appreciate that not all groups operate responsibly or in the best interests of the women they accommodate. My Friends’ Place, however, know without any doubt that the safety, security and welfare of our residents is crucial and operate as such. From day one, we have worked 24/7 (unpaid) to set up an organisation so desperately needed. We have done it on our own, with the full support of our community, local business, organisations, local Members, and referral agencies. We have done it without the Government’s help.
The fact that we are unregulated is because of a lack of innovation within the Government. We have provided the “community response” that politicians keep asking for and aspiring to, yet thus far have failed to deliver. We are that response. The Gold Coast HAS responded, DOES care, and GIVES over and over to the women we assist. Again, if the Government is truly behind this “community problem requiring a community response” then we can provide the blueprint. Instead, more empty rhetoric and actually threatening to close down an appropriate and requested response.
My Friends’ Place operates the only transitional service on the Gold Coast. We can accommodate up to 16 women each night and in 18 months, have provided a safe home for over 120 women. That’s 120 women not being beaten, stabbed, burned, attacked, raped, violated. That’s 120 women not sleeping on the streets, in their cars, in a park, under bridges. That’s 120 women SAFE and FREE of violence.
We do not, and have never claimed to, operate houses for high risk women. There are other organisations better equipped to assist these women. My Friends’ Place was created because the women considered “lower risk” were not seen as priority, so we filled the gap. All houses are secure. Strict policies and procedures are in place in relation to access, keys, changing of locks, security and safety. Our Board oversees all rules, regulations, policies and procedures.
The women we accommodate are referred to us from various domestic violence and homelessness agencies. An intake process is undertaken when the women reach us to ensure their safety and that of the other women in the property. Safety is our priority, for our guests and our workers and we will move swiftly if safety is compromised.
As with all housing, including refuges, homelessness shelters and funded supported accommodation, there is a daily fee payable by our guests which covers rent and utilities. This is very comparable to other similar organisations. We work with a massive range of businesses, charities, community members and businesses who generously donate toiletries, food, clothing, furniture, gift vouchers. ALL of the donated items are passed directly to our guests to use during their stay and/or to take with them when they move on. We conduct our own fundraising to raise vital funds to continue our work. Our ultimate goal is to have enough funding to be able to cover ALL costs to enable the women to focus on rebuilding their lives.
It was also confusing to hear the Minister in the same paragraph again attempt to discredit My Friends’ Place then confirm that all of our guests are offered “safe and appropriate accommodation”.
My colleague the Hon. Shannon Fentiman, as Queensland’s first ever Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, has been working tirelessly to lead our Government’s response to the Not Now, Not Ever Report into family violence.
We are investing significant funds into support services for women and children fleeing domestic and family violence on the Coast including more than $1 million for housing support services and an extra $3.2 million a year for counselling, support services and perpetrator programs.
To support this investment, the Palaszczuk Government has overseen the construction of 69 new homes on the Gold Cost this year alone. People escaping domestic and family violence are given top priority when allocating these homes.
Ms Fentiman has ignored our requests for a meeting until this week when we went to the media.
69 new homes may have been constructed on the Gold Coast, but almost 400 women are waiting for accommodation. Thousands of women are turned away from services on a weekly basis as there are simply no beds for them. To date, 70 women in Australia have lost their lives this year as a result of violence.
Making statements like these is not something we want to be spending our time doing. From day one we have gotten on with the job of assisting for women in need. We welcome them, make them feel safe, take them to any services they need, organise donations for them, sit with them, hear them and assist them with rebuilding their lives.
Our vision is that all women have somewhere to go when they leave a violent relationship or other unsafe living arrangement.
Our mission is to make this happen.
The Minister is also claiming that he has offered a solution and the women in the property in question will not be made homeless. His offer involves removing My Friends’ Place and placing the women on a general tenancy with the Horizon Housing. We discussed this “offer” with the women and they did not want to leave our services. They need our services. The offer was perplexing as he’s making statements about the safety of the women in that house – but says they can stay without our services….
So no, these women will not be made homeless because we will ensure they are not.
We will work with any government, office, business, community, organisation, charity and person to keep providing the services that have already helped so many. Sitting at a desk making decisions that gravely affect the lives of vulnerable women is irresponsible. We simply ask the Ministers to see what we’re doing, to meet with us, to understand, to be educated and then to work with us to continue.
To our friends, community, businesses, local members and everyone else who has stood by us, helped us, cried with us, fought alongside us and cared for these women by way of donations – you will never know how much we appreciate you. Grateful doesn’t cover it. You too are making a difference and we can never thank you enough. The relief in the eyes of the women we help says it all.
We won’t stop. There are thousands of women in need and we intend continue what we set out to do. There is already a domestic violence crisis and a shortage of accommodation – we urge the government to work with us to increase, not decrease the numbers of beds available.