Waikato Women's Refuge Te Whakaruruhau is unique on many levels, but its driving force is to keep families safe.
Established in 1986 in response to rising rates of family violence and a lack of effective government intervention for Maori women and their whanau, today Te Whakaruruhau is the country's largest refuge and assists about 100 cases every week. It does so in a variety of ways that differ to other similar organisations, including operating a 24 hours a day, seven day a week service both on site and via its crisis/callout number (855 1569). It advocates for and works with men and aims to attend domestic violence police callouts within 30 minutes of being notified by emergency services.
Te Whakaruruhau chief executive Ruahine (Roni) Albert said: "Our priority is to keep our families safe, advocate on their behalf and support them by whatever means necessary to be able to return back to the community with practical tools to maintain a violence-free environment".
The organisation comprises five safe houses with the sixth one being renovated for use, 34 paid staff, five volunteers and additional paid staff who continue to volunteer well over their paid hours.
"We have a male advocate, and we're lobbying to access funds to secure more male advocates to cater to the numbers of men requiring assistance," said Roni.
Refuge staff member Lannell said they support women who want to cut ties with a violent partner and there are others who want to try to mend their relationship. That's when the Refuge facilitates family therapy and supports the man to change his behaviours.
Roni said it was important a Refuge staff member attends every domestic violence incident within an hour of the occurrence so families have an opportunity to make better decisions and arrests can take place if need be.
"It's also an opportunity to connect with the offenders to assess whether they want to make a difference or not about their behaviour," she said.
"The fastest way to protect our families is connect with the offender and develop a direct communication about his future and his family's. There needs to be support available for the men to access counselling, financial assistance, housing etc, many of the avenues our women need, and a male advocate who works closely with all the family violence specialists to enhance the safety of her and the children."
Looming large on the horizon for Te Whakaruruhau is the work that needs to be done to get its sixth safe house to a liveable standard.
"In October 2014 we were offered a 10-bedroom facility from Braemar Hospital due to limited safe housing for high risk families in need," said Roni. The building was moved off the Braemar site and renovation work has begun.
Roni said they had support from all corners of the community focused on getting the building completed by Christmas - traditionally their busiest time of year.
Businesses and individuals have donated building materials, household goods and offered practical support such as painting.
The new building will accommodate five high-risk families.
Once the renovation is complete, Te Whakaruruhau needs to find the money to operate the safe house.
Roni said government departments and community organisations should reassess whether their service's ability to assist women and children coming away from violent relationships and whether their systems can provide financial assistance, housing, waive debts, court fees and fines, access medical assistance, and provide clothing and fees for schools.
"There's a lot of government legislation that makes it difficult for women to come away from a violent relationship. The legislation needs to be reassessed and made easier for women to see they have a range of options to choose from if they want to leave."
Te Whakaruruhau assists 350-400 women and children each month. Annually, they assist 6500-8100 women, men and children but are only contracted to assist 1551. They did that within the first four months of this year.
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