A domestic abuse victim trying to flee her city home with her five children was told to go to the nearest women’s refuge 300 miles away – or ‘give up one of her children temporarily’.
The 29-year-old, who has two sons and three daughters, feels she has been put in ‘danger’ and is being punished for having a large family as she was advised the closest safe house available at the time was in Glasgow.
When another house in Worcester came up for four children, she contemplated sending her eldest daughter, 12, to stay with family as there wasn’t space.
In the end the decision was taken out of her hand, the place given to another family in need before she could accept.
Women’s Aid have been a brilliant support network, helping with financial grants, securing a non-molestation order, a MARAK meeting and the all-important strength to push forward since she left her abuser, she stressed.
“But they can’t magic up a refuge space for me”, she told BirminghamLive in a bid to highlight the shocking impact of the housing crisis and need for further Government funding into safe houses for larger families.
Meanwhile she’s been left feeling like a ‘prisoner’ in her own housing association property amid ongoing harassment and stalking from her ’emotionally and financially abusive’ ex-partner. Terrified, her children are ‘bolting the door’ shut as her former boyfriend is still sleeping outside the property, she said.
“Even though we see a lot about domestic violence, we see a lot about how [the Government] is trying to do the best to reduce it and to help, but actually has anyone acknowledged the problem – do you know how hard it is to get a refuge space if you have more than three children?”
The mum, whose children are aged between ten months and 12, fears she is in ‘danger’ after failed attempts to find a safe place to live with Women’s Aid and Birmingham City Council since the beginning of October.
“I did attempt refuge on a few occasions and there’s no room for a family of my size,” she recalled.
“They tried to book me in Glasgow the other day, because it was the only refuge they had which was self-contained and it was actually only meant for four children, but they could have given it me for five because my son shares a bed with me.
“If you have quite a few children it makes it more difficult. It’s not the fact they just don’t have the space, they don’t have many for a woman and five kids. Them not having a refuge space has left me in danger.”
A property for four children was also offered in Worcester during her search, but she was essentially told she would need to ‘give up’ one child temporarily.
She planned to send her 12-year-old daughter to live with family members, but by the time she had tried to make arrangements, it had been allocated to another family in need.
“Actually I was in the position where I might have got my older daughter to go and stay with family members because potentially they did get a refuge space in a different area not far from Birmingham,” she explained.
“But that was allocated to someone else, which is fair enough. I have seen a lot on the newspapers about overcrowding. I know that housing is literally at its capacity at the moment. It’s crazy.”
Women’s Aid said it could not comment on individual cases, but added that the national shortage of housing is having a knock on effect on residents searching for suitable accommodation.
The mum continued: “Some people will say, ‘oh well you shouldn’t have had five children’. Yes ok going forward, but you know what? No one knows what’s going to happen round the corner do they?
“There’s women out there with more children than me and because we have a big family we have to stay in the situation that we’re in.”
She also approached Birmingham City Council around the same time as Women’s Aid, but said the only offers were in hotels where she feared her children would brush shoulders with ‘drug abusers and convicts’.
“They want me to go into an accommodation with Birmingham City Council where they would put me in a hotel with drug abusers, people that are homeless off the street, they could be convicted for domestic violence themselves,” she said.
“They want me to go into an accommodation which isn’t safe for me and my children – but yet safe away from my home.
“Granted you save me away from my abuser, but take me out the fire to put me in a different one.”
Her children are suffering as a result of their housing situation, while she has been left feeling like a ‘prisoner’ in her home, she added.
“We aren’t going to be able to have a peaceful Christmas,” she said.
“My children are bolting the door after them and stuff. They’re obviously feeling the impact of it.
“Say if I was relocated, I wouldn’t have to live in that stress and fear and put up with the emotional strain and everything else that is ongoing.
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“It would be nice just to be able to enjoy the Christmas period, just being able to live a normal life and not feel like I’m a prisoner in my own home.”
“I don’t want to put women off thinking they can’t ask for help, that is not what I want. The Government can fund certain things but can’t fund saving people’s lives. Yet they have empty properties, why don’t they have some of them on standby for women victims of domestic violence who they can’t put in one room?
“Other areas Women’s Aid have really supported me, I’m not putting them down, I’m saying I feel like this needs to be looked into even if other people come forward for funding to make this an easier opportunity.
“It’s maybe to open other windows that there maybe; are other people who have stayed in a relationship or a property because there genuinely is nowhere to house us [larger families]?”
The mum continued to praise Women’s Aid, who she said had been “brilliant”, in every other area.
“Women’s Aid overall have been absolutely brilliant and supportive with me, they can’t magic up a house for me, they can’t magic up a refuge space for me,” she added.
- The helpline on 0808 2000 247 and Live Chat – the first point of call, also offering extended opening hours for weekends
- Drop in centre – It’s currently closed but will be back open subject to Government guidance on Covid-19
- Help applying for benefits
- Housing options hub to help with homeless applications and temporary accommodation
- Advice on civil law – with links to other organisations
- Refuges, supported accommodation – Women’s Aid run six across Birmingham and Solihull
- Intensive family support service, with doorstep visits available
- Safety planning with women – how to keep safe while planning to leave
- Domestic violence awareness – covering why it happens and taking the blame away from the victim
- Child support and safeguarding – some refuges have specialist child support workers
“The housing hub they could apply for a deposit and bond which would pay for me to go private rented but it would have to be a four bed and trying to find one for less than £900 a month at the moment is ridiculous. They don’t take DSS and if you do you need a guarantor.
“They said they are going to apply for grants going forward to help me and the kids, the financial stuff, they’ve been brilliant with their advice.
“I wouldn’t be as strong without the way they are supporting me, getting the MARAK sorted, getting the court order, the non molestation order, they’ve been absolutely amazing. The main thing is housing.”
A spokeswoman for Women’s Aid said: “In terms of housing, there is a national shortage of social housing, and this has a knock on effect on anyone looking for suitable properties.”
What the Government said
In response to the issue, the Government said it is taking ‘comprehensive action’ to support domestic abuse victims who flee their home for safety.
It has also introduced new council duties to ensure victims can be supported in safe accommodation.
The government promises its £12 billion investment will provide up to 180,000 new homes across the country, “should economic conditions allow”.
A Government spokesperson said: “We are taking comprehensive action, backed by £125 million, to support domestic abuse victims so those who leave their home to escape have somewhere safe to go.
“This is alongside a £4.2 million Respite Room pilot, providing safe housing and support for victims at risk of sleeping rough.
“We’ve also introduced new duties on councils to ensure all victims and their children can be supported in safe accommodation.”
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