Irish domestic violence charity 'struggling to cope'

Almost 250 women desperate to escape a violent partner were turned away by an overstretched charity last year.

Sonas Housing said almost three times more women and children became homeless because of domestic violence in 2010 as it recorded a massive 163% rise in numbers it supported.



But the charity revealed it could only cater for 40% of the 433 enquiries it received.



While 184 women with 234 children were supported - up from 70 women and 88 children in 2009 - a staggering 249 were turned away because services were full.



Sharon Cosgrove, chief executive of Sonas Housing, said overstretched services are only able to meet a small level of demand.



"It is very difficult to turn women away - the majority of the women who call us are in dire abusive situations," she said.



"Picking up the phone to a domestic violence service can be a massive step, so it's crushing if they do not receive a positive response."



Sonas said the surge in demand was linked with the opening of a new crisis refuge in Dublin 15 and a supported housing service in Belmayne.



But officials stressed the prevalence of domestic violence can also increase during a recession when women trapped in a relationship have fewer options to flee.



Ms Cosgrave added: "The availability of good, quality services is even more important in times of recession, when domestic violence often increases in a recession.



"Increased financial pressure and/or unemployment can escalate stress and the downturn can be used as an excuse to legitimise controlling behaviours."



The charity's annual report found many women experiencing domestic violence suffer mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts.



Some 66% of applicants had mental health support needs, 23% had recognised addiction needs and 16% had both mental health and addiction support needs.



Sonas said there has also been a further 26% increase in calls for services in the first half of this year.



It revealed Ireland lags way behind on the UK and Council of Europe standard of one family unit for a population of 10,000, which means minimum of 424 refuge family spaces should be in place. There are only 131 spaces across the country.



Rachel Mullen, chairperson of Sonas Housing, said its focus was to ensure services for women are available.



"It is a constant challenge to retain a level of service provision for women when there are limited resources to cater for all target groups affected by homelessness," she added.



"Sonas works to ensure the needs of women and children affected by domestic violence are met."

Source: PA

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