Jules Sebastian's plan to help domestic violence victims: renovate rooms to rebuild lives

A new proposal to overhaul refuges and rebuild them as clusters of self-contained units to shelter women and their children has been put to the Baird government as a "common sense" solution to one of the biggest issues facing domestic violence victims: housing.

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It has the backing of Guy and Jules Sebastian's charitable foundation, which has pledged to furnish bedrooms and lounge rooms, install kitchens with partner Freedom Kitchens, and offer building assistance on one refuge – if the Baird government funds construction costs for a pilot project.

Ms Sebastian said families would find the privacy and calm they need at a time of difficulty if they could stay in a self-contained unit, and it would particularly benefit children.

"It is scary, and it is weird, exposing yourself to people you don't know and other people's situations," she said.

"Having a place that you can call your own is super important, I think."

SOS Women's Services says a major recommendation of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence is that communal refuges be converted to offer private quarters for families, after witnesses told of how distressing the experience of communal living could be. The Victorian government has committed $152 million to act on it.

SOS spokeswoman Roxanne McMurray said NSW women's refuges were experiencing the same problem.

"Women have been asked to split up their children or leave a child in care in order for her to access a refuge," she said.

SOS has asked for four NSW refuges to be rebuilt, as a pilot, on the Central Coast, Newcastle, Griffith and Eurobodalla. It is likely to cost several million dollars in construction for each rebuild.

Laurie Maher, executive officer of Coast Shelter, says that every night, women's refuges on the Central Coast accommodate 80 women and children but have to turn away four out of five requests for help.

Mr Maher says it is "a very live issue" confronting the shelters that sons are sent into separate youth refuges or left at the home from which the mother is fleeing. "We need to keep them together," he said.

Under the proposal, granny flats could be built on refuge land at Woy Woy, with the existing communal building used for administration and appointments with counselling and legal services.

Ms McMurray said the Sebastian Foundation had recently renovated The Girls Refuge crisis accommodation in inner Sydney, with great results.

"In transforming buildings you can actually lay the foundations for lives to be transformed," she said.

The Greens MP for Balmain, Jamie Parker, said the upgrade of The Girls Refuge, which is in his electorate, had made "an incredible difference to the young girls there – it is a place they can call home".

"What is positive about this is that the private sector is participating. It is a whole of community response," he said.

Ms Sebastian said fixing up the broken things in the refuge was a practical way to help the many girls who stayed there.

"As a girl, we love that feeling of coming home to somewhere that's comfortable and feels nice. It can affect somebody's mood and day if we can give them somewhere beautiful to be, that makes them feel really special. You can get through your day with that feeling," she said.

The government is considering the proposal.


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