Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter (NBWS): Helping over 600 women find homes now and for the future
By Tahney Fosdike
Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter calls itself a “haven” - a place for women to find a sense of safety and independence. The shelter in Sydney’s Northern Beaches operates on the premise that women in crisis should be helped in - and by - their community.
“It exists to serve our community,” NBWS’ website proudly states, “It survives because of our community.”
The non-profit, community-funded charitable organisation also says they are “more than a safe haven.” The shelter prioritises its residents’ futures. While providing crisis and transitional accommodation, they also seek to address underlying causes of homelessness and equip women with long-term benefits from their time at the shelter.
Stating that “homelessness doesn’t discriminate,” NBWS offers individual case management and an outcomes-based approach. Sydney’s Northern Beaches women staying in the shelter can access assistance in finding permanent accommodation and community systems and services. NBWS strives for residents to gain hope of rebuilding their lives during their stays of up to three months.
“Each day at NBWS is different,” says Shelter Manager Narelle Hand, while making special mention of their Empowerment Group, an 8-week meeting cycle focussing on cultivating healthy boundaries and connections.
Women’s shelters like NBWS exist to provide safe spaces for women and children. They provide crisis intervention, counselling, legal and financial aid, and access to support networks. Shelters range in their focus, and NBWS hones into assisting women experiencing homelessness resulting from factors like family violence, harmful substance use, mental health and economic issues.
The NBWS Story
In Australia, shelters emerged from momentum in the 1970s women’s liberation and feminist movements. Volunteers opened the country’s first refugees to combat domestic violence and abuse. The first state-funded shelter for women, The Elsie Refuge, opened in Glebe in 1974, with the National Women’s Refuge Network established in 1980 to maintain women’s shelters across the country.
Today, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, one in six Australian women has experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner (while one woman is killed by a current or former partner every nine days in Australia). As domestic violence and abuse remain prevalent, shelters like NBWS remain vital to ever-necessary community advocacy for at-risk people.
“People think ‘women’s shelters’ are a place where the people accessing the service are not like them,” Hand explains. “But when they come to the shelter, they see people you know, people you work with and people you find in the general community - this really hits a nerve as they realise homelessness can happen to anybody.”
NBWS values transitioning resident women into sustainable accommodation that is both suitable and affordable. Their dedicated, qualified, skilled team of professional support workers and volunteers “go above and beyond” to provide the shelter’s services.
Staff at NBWS
“The staff at NBWS work from a trauma-informed, client-centred perspective,” says Hand, “We understand that our residents are the experts in their own lives, and most have at some time experienced trauma that affects how they live.”
“The staff were there to support me from the moment I arrived. They are angels” says former NBWS resident Daisy, “I was in heaven… [the staff] helped me regain my life.”
The shelter opened after more than 300 women contacted Manly Community Centre and St Vincent de Paul in Brookvale for crisis accommodation, in one calendar year. NBWS, then known as Manly Women’s Shelter, then opened in 2010 from collaborative community efforts.
Over 70 women used the shelter’s emergency accommodation in the first year, operating from two small rental houses. In early 2018, the refuge’s name legally changed to Northern Beaches Women’s Shelter. Soon, NBWS hopes to expand its support of women with children through additional physical premises.
NBWS Contact Details
NBWS encourages women and community members in immediate danger to contact the police. Their website also lists a range of resources and helpline numbers, such as 1800RESPECT and the NSW Domestic Violence Line 1800 65 64 63, to anyone seeking assistance. Residents often come through referrals from these listed third-party services.
If referred to NBWS, residents receive care from trained staff and volunteers. However, some factors can make it challenging for women to access shelters, such as lack of awareness, cultural and linguistic barriers, and fear of retaliation from abusers.
On these barriers, Hand says, “When you come to our shelter, we try to make the experience safe and welcoming.”
She continues, “At NBWS, everyone is treated with dignity, respect, kindness, and care. We have weekly groups and events to encourage connection, understanding, and support for each other to feel like you belong somewhere and you are not alone.”