Belfast Telegraph

250 turned away by abuse charity

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 inquiries it received. While 184 women with 234 children were supported - up from 70 women and 88 children in 2009 - 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. 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.

Rachel Mullen, chairwoman of Sonas Housing, said its focus was to ensure services for women are available, adding: "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."

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