The number of refuge spaces required is 1 family space per 10,000 people living in the country. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, Ireland only had one third of the required refuge space. Moreover, refuges are not available in every county. In 2018, refuges were unable to accommodate 3,256 requests from women. More recent data from the Women’s Aid Helpline confirms this worrying trend.
In 2018 the 24hr Freephone National Helpline made a total of 244 calls to Refuges on behalf of women seeking emergency accommodation and on 126 occasions the refuges reported they were full (52%). Many of these women had children with them and the lack of space in refuges may have meant they had to return to the abuser or become homeless. The Covid-19 crisis has further reduced capacity leaving many women and children at risk.
The pandemic has also highlighted the many limitations of the communal refuge model. When a Covid-19 case is confirmed at a refuge, it can be difficult for that person to isolate because of a lack of personal or private space within the refuge. Fear of catching the virus has also meant that many women who might benefit from accessing a space in a refuge do not because of the communal set up. Refuges overall have had to drastically reduce client numbers in order to reduce the chance of infection and transmission within the refuge.
Capital investment is needed to increase the number or refuges for victims of domestic abuse and to reconfigure communal refuges into family unit models. Greater accessibility for disabled women and children to refuge accommodation should be prioritised as a matter of urgency.
The ratification of the Istanbul Convention needs to be matched by the allocation of sufficient resources to all the systems that deliver services and support women effected by gender-based violence.
For a list of refuges across the country visit www.stillhere.ie