The women have turned to ACORN for assistance
UPDATE: Following a rapidly organised ACORN demonstration, senior council officers agreed to meet with survivors this evening, Thursday. They have now accepted the initial demands to provide a complete action plan for the survivors by the 28th of August, and to look into the failures in the service provision. The Cable will be following this important story and holding the council and agencies to account.
Jen and Sarah (not their real names) have been living in a Bristol safe house for survivors of domestic violence for 18 months and 7 months respectively. The safe house, run by organisation Within Safe Hands, is now closing down and they are facing imminent eviction and potential homelessness.
Workers in the domestic violence sector have demanded the council should step in to ensure that the women have safe, and ideally permanent housing.
However, the survivors have told the Cable that the council isn’t fully accepting responsibility for their fate, and complained of poor treatment at the safe house.
In a comment sent to the Cable today, a Bristol city council spokesperson said that efforts are being made to find alternative accommodation as soon as possible.
Along with the immediate issue about the women’s accommodation, the evictions have brought to light concerns about the company Within Safe Hands, and a lack of clarity over their status as an appropriate safe house provider in the city.
The council spokesperson told the Cable: “Within Safe Hands are not a service commissioned by the council and we have never placed anyone in their accommodation. Property owned and managed by Within Safe Hands is not included in the local authority’s records of local safe house provision.”
They added: “Within Safe Hands accommodation was listed on the [national charity] Women’s Aid website. Bristol City Council were made aware of complaints from residents about Within Safe Hands. Information was shared with Women’s Aid who took the decision to remove them from their database.”
However, the manager of Within Safe Hands, Laura Brace appeared to contradict the council’s statement, telling the Cable that the council found services at the safe house “was of a good enough level on the 27th of Feb 2018.”
Next Link, the local charity that referred the women to the safe house, have been asked for information on the process for ensuring referrals are appropriate.
“We’ve just been dismissed from everything, all services have neglected us” said Jen, adding that “I’ve always paid my taxes, and for them to chuck this in my face when I need help is a disgrace”.
The two women have now turned to ACORN, the community union with a track record of successfully campaigning for Bristolians on the sharp-end of service failures and the housing crisis.
Speaking to the Cable, the women said how they felt let down by the council and of the poor support and instances of abuse by staff at the safe house. “This is meant to be my recovery phase, but I’ve gotten worse in the 18 months I’ve been there.” says Jen who is in the safe house with a young son.
“I was on 20mg of antidepressants, now it’s gone up to 150mg plus other medication.” She adds that all her benefits were stopped due to allegations of benefit fraud, despite all her paperwork being processed by the management of the safe house.
Sarah said “I’ve got nowhere safe to go, so I would probably end up on the streets”.
Laura Brace, manager of Within Safe Hands, has denied any poor treatment by the company, and said that efforts have been made to find alternative places for the women.
“I do understand the women’s frustration as this has been going on for some months. However BCC have not been at all helpful within this situation and are currently prolonging the inevitable” said Brace.
ACORN is set to launch a campaign to immediately secure a safe place for the women to go, with a protest scheduled for Thursday afternoon (23 August) outside council offices on Temple Street.
ACORN and the two women are calling on the council to explain how domestic violence survivors have been referred to a safe house that is not recognised as a safe housing service provider by the local authority, and now face homelessness as result of it’s closure.
Mehala Osborne, a domestic violence survivor and campaigner for survivor’s rights, was present at the meeting. Speaking to the Cable, Mehala said, “we have a duty to protect and ensure survivors are supported and these women and their children have been failed by all systems. What has happened needs to be fully investigated to ensure it can never happen again to another survivor.
“The council need to have a regulatory authority ensuring safe house organisations are working within national guidance to ensure survivors are protected, supported and not abused by a system that is fronting as a place of protection.”
Charlotte Gage, Partnerships Project Officer at Bristol Zero Tolerance said, “it is vital that these services are properly monitored to ensure that they are providing appropriate care and meeting the needs of the women who desperately need them, especially if they are being commissioned and referred to by the local authority.
“It is appalling that this situation has been allowed to happen and we must make sure that women are never put in this position again by ensuring that these essential services are properly funded and monitored so that they are safe and appropriate.”
The Cable will continue to report on this issue. If you have any information about that you would like to share confidentially, please get in touch with firstname.lastname@example.org.