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Life is transformational in the Emerge refuge
September 14, 2020
In just four months since Emerge’s 24/7 refuge opened five women and 12 children have had their lives begin to turn around.
“It has been a wonderful few months despite the lockdown because the refuge is so inviting and the space is fantastic,” Jess, Manager of Emerge’s Integrated Family Services, said.
According to many of the stories that women have shared with the Emerge team, the refuge opening has not come a moment too soon. Many of them had been living in hotels or temporary housing waiting for the high-risk secure refuge to open.
“The time they leave their own home until they arrive at somewhere like our refuge is very unsafe. There is nowhere for children to play, nowhere for women to cook, and emotions are running high,” Jess said.
“By the time, the families arrive they are more stressed than ever but within a day, we can see the tension easing from their faces.”
Part of the release of tension is that the multi-purpose refuge is one of the safest places to be in Victoria for any woman facing family violence right now. There is no street access, six feet high fences and three gates to negotiate before they even reach the front door.
There a new world awaits them. Designed by award-winning architectural practice Harrison and White, the refuge is a mix of personal and communal space to allow women and children to recover from the impact of family violence and homelessness.
Each family is assigned one of the state of the art units, each with their own spacious bathroom and kitchen. There is also a communal kitchen and living room – which are out of bounds while Stage 4 restrictions are in place.
“For many of the women we are supporting, this is the first chance they have had to have time to themselves, including their own room,” Jess said. “That little bit of personal space is contributing to a sense of healing the minute they arrive.”
For children, too, the refuge is proving to be a winner. They have their own cubby house, sandpit, room to ride their bikes and the chance to be outside and to be noisy without feeling fear.
Usually there is a team of at least eight Emerge staff in the refuge but with a complex roster in place due to COVID-19, Jess has been working with two case managers and after-hours support worker.
In the brief time before Stage 3 and Stage 4 restrictions, the staff had created a makeshift school bringing in voluntary tutors to help the older children with their homework and making sure the younger children were reading and playing to learn.
“It closed almost as soon as we set it up but it was a great example of what we can do in a crisis and how flexible the space is,” Jess said.
Since then, staff have been taking the time to make life as normal as possible for the children as well as working one-on-one with the mothers to put in place next steps for their new lives. These include support with finances, legal aid, medical help, organising a safety plan and housing.