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Many women turned away from crisis refuge

FOUR out of five victims of domestic violence desperate for help were turned from a crisis refuge last year because it was full.

Sonas Housing revealed almost 600 vulnerable woman living with abuse made contact in 2011, but only 130 woman with 250 children could be taken in.

Anne McKeon, chair of Sonas Housing Association, said the lives of women and children are at risk by the lack of support nationwide.

"There is a real need for more domestic violence spaces in the community to alleviate this risk," she said.

Demand for Sonas almost doubled since 2010, the organisation revealed.

Almost 850 woman made contact in 2011, including 250 who needed long-term housing or outreach support, but on 550 occasions women were turned away. Approximately 70pc had children.

Its annual report revealed December and June were the quietest months for demand, but were followed by massive spikes in February and July which were the busiest.

Ms McKeon said the trends in demand are often family related.

"In December, mothers are aware that children want to spend Christmas in their homes," she continued.

"Younger children may worry that Santa may not be able to find them if they move into a refuge.

"In June many children finish their school year or take formal exams so mothers often wait until these are completed before making a move out of an abusive situation.

"In our experience women try to hold a situation together for the sake of their family."

Women and children who get access to emergency services at Viva House in west Dublin are later helped to move safely on to independent living.

But the charity argued that Ireland lags way behind the Council of Europe standard of refuge provision of one family unit for a population of 10,000.

Instead of 424 family refuge spaces, Ireland has 131, with many counties having no service, it added.

Researchers also found domestic abuse is endemic in the lives of many women who are homeless.

Housing Minister Jan O'Sullivan said she is determined to work in partnership with organisations such as Sonas to provide appropriate and secure options for individuals and families escaping domestic violence and rebuilding their lives.

"The notion that a 'home' is not 'safe' seems like an extreme contradiction to most of us fortunate enough not to have to face the issue of domestic violence and abuse in our daily lives," she said.

"It is for this very reason that we welcome the fact that domestic violence is no longer seen as a private issue - it is our responsibility to protect this vulnerable sector of our society.

"The Sonas report clearly demonstrates the difference it is making in people's lives."