I’ve been doing this work for around 4 1/2 years and I’ve learned a few things about women’s refuges. One of those things is how women’s refuges in NZ actually operate – the structure of that, and what it looks like. I do not work for any women’s refuges or for the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuge (most people refer to it as Women’s Refuge). Everything written here is what I have pieced together through my work, my conversations with people who runs women’s refuges, who live and have lived in womens refuges for varying amounts of time in differing locations, and with social workers and professionals in the field of domestic violence. I’m writing it because people assume that all refuges are fully funded. People are also a bit scared and stand offish about womens refuges, because they fear that them knowing even that a safe house exists poses some danger to the women that live in these refuges. It does not. So here we go, let’s see if we can do a bit of safe demystification…..
In NZ, based in Wellington, is the National Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges. This is an umbrella organisation, This organisation is focused on advocacy, training and development of policy around domestic violence in NZ. They run a crisis line for people wanting help with their living situations, have an extensive and helpful website and work in conjunction with sponsors, and other organisations such as the Warehouse. They also run a home security service called Whanau Protect. NCIWR do not actually run any women’s refuges, themselves.
There are 37 refuges who are affiliated with them. There are also 20 or so women’s refuges in NZ that are not affiliated members of the Collective. The reasons for this are many and varied.
Whether refuges are affiliated members of the National Collective or not, each refuge is run independently by a trust board. All are registered charities, and have to apply for their own funding from the MSD. The funding rules around womens refuges are arcane, and complex. Some are fully funded by the MSD, some are funded partially, and some are not funded at all. The NCIWR is itself only funded around 60 % by the government. They are a non profit organisation, just like all women’s refuges are.
Now. Women’s refuges themselves. What are they? They are primarily safe houses. Places cis women – primarily – and their kids can go and live for a while away from the violence they’ve been living in. I can’t speak for all women’s refuges, but the ones I have encountered have all been rented from Housing New Zealand. Some are on street fronts, some are down long driveways. They aren’t cottages in a remote area somewhere. They’re just houses where people live.
So why can donating stuff to your local women’s refuge be a bit hard?
Well. Most refuges don’t have their offices at the actual safe house. Most will have a separate office somewhere else. Most refuges will allow you to drop off donations to their offices. If you aren’t allowed to do that, you can assume that the office of that refuge is not separate. It may also be that the donations they have been getting are really crappy. This is often the case. And so making it hard can weed out people who just want to get rid of their rubbish. Nobody wants your rubbish because 1) it’s insulting and 2) it takes time and effort to get rid of it. It may also be hard to donate to your local refuge because they just don’t have the time to come and collect, or any volunteers available. Some refuges don’t have volunteers at all. There may be just one person running it during the day, and they have other pretty important stuff to do. Very few refuges, if any, will have somebody who is a dedicated donations coordinator. Just something to bear in mind. Most have their staff, and that’s it. And staff of refuges are very wary of do gooders, in my experience. They have come, in general, to expect nothing because that’s what they usually get. They get all sorts of people wanting to help who aren’t reliable, and it’s incredibly disruptive for anyone if somebody wants to help, doesn’t turn up, or doesn’t deliver. In my experience, that’s why people aren’t allowed into refuges to help. It’s just plain disruptive. Remember, the staff are dealing with women who have been living in violence, and this is supposed to be a safe house, which means as little chaos, and disruption, as possible is needed. Routine is incredibly important in keeping things peaceful and on an even keel.
So why am I telling you all this?
Because your local refuge needs you. I try as hard as I can to connect people up with their local refuges, and sometimes it’s not easy. I’ve been asked not to be so vocal, and “how you do think other refuges get stuff donated?” Well, the thing is this. They don’t. They just don’t. There are kind people in communities all over NZ who keep women’s refuges running, and bring donations to them, but not in quantity and it’s mostly ad hoc. What I do for the refuges that the Aunties service is incredibly rare – I don’t know that anybody else is doing what the Aunties do up here, and to a lesser degree in Chch. If there is, I haven’t heard about it, and I’ve talked to alot of the refuges in NZ, personally.
I know that not everybody can do what I do, but everyone can do what the Aunties do – anyone can supply freshly washed linen and clothes, in good condition, to their local women’s refuge. Most people can pick up a phone, ring their local refuge and ask: What do you need? You can do it. Please. Do it. They need your support.