Warrina Refuge Centre opened its doors on 14th June, 1978, as the result of the work of a group of women from Grafton who recognised the need for a safe place for women escaping domestic violence.
Establishment and running costs were covered by local community donations and government funding. The service was reliant on a combination of committed volunteers and low-paid but passionate staff. Ongoing funding of the service was eventually secured through the Department of Community Services ‘Supported Accommodation Assistance Program’ (later Specialist Homelessness Service or SHS).
On 21st June, 1982, the organisation registered as a co-operative under the name Warrina Women’s Refuge Co-operative Society Ltd. Later that year, Warrina created a dedicated position for an Aboriginal worker to provide culturally appropriate support to Aboriginal women in the Refuge.
In 1988, the Refuge moved into a new property, purchased and renovated by the then, Department of Housing. The new building provided a wheelchair-accessible bedroom and bathroom, allowing the Refuge to take women with physical disabilities. The same year, a dedicated Culturally and Linguistically Diverse position was created in the team.
On 21st March,1989, the organisation’s name was changed to Warrina Women’s & Children’s Refuge Co-operative Society Ltd, in recognition of the important work the service does with children.
In partnership with the then, Department of Housing, Warrina secured its first ‘Halfway House’ (later known as Transitional Housing) in 1993. Over the next few years, two additional properties were obtained, providing short-term accommodation for women with children attempting to move into the private rental market.
On International Women’s Day in 1999, the organisation opened the Women’s Resource and Information Centre in the mud-bricks’, using funds from the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program to provide outreach support in the community. At the end of March 1999, the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Support service commenced operations in Coffs Harbour, funded by Legal Aid and provided support at court to women seeking Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders.
In January 2008, the Women’s Resource and Information Centre moved to the current location. The back section of the new space was originally used to provide additional ‘halfway accommodation, before being taken over for office space and group activities as the organisation grew.
The court support program underwent a review and expansion in July 2009, becoming the North Coast Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service (WDVCAS). Additional funding was received to provide services five days per week in Coffs Harbour and new services for Bellingen, Macksville, Kempsey and Grafton courts.
The Women and Their Intervention Team (WaTCHIT) was funded by the Department of Premier and Cabinet in July 2009 for a one-year pilot project, with a further five-year project funded through Women NSW. Workers in this project contacted women following a domestic violence incident in which police were called, providing referrals and information.
In July 2010, Warrina began the process to become a registered Community Housing Provider and in December 2010, received registration by the NSW Registrar of Community Housing. A compliance review was completed in February 2013 and registration under the new National Regulatory System for Community Housing achieved in February 2015.
In 2013, the state government undertook the Going Home Staying Home reform of Specialist Homelessness Services. This process re-allocated funds for the SHS services based on analysis of need by district and required all existing service providers to tender for funding. Warrina was successful in the tender for the Coffs Harbour, Bellingen, and Nambucca Homelessness Support Service for Women, funded from August 2014.
During May, June and July of 2014, Housing NSW purchased seven properties under the Transitional Housing Plus program. These properties are managed by Warrina in partnership with Address Housing, the housing arm of DV NSW. These properties provide medium-term accommodation for women with children who are entering the workforce and the private rental market.
From the 1st of July 2015, Warrina became responsible for all aspects of responsive and planned maintenance for its Transitional Housing properties. This resulted in a change to our systems and required funds from rental income be set aside in reserve for future maintenance.
On 20th April, 2015, the co-operative’s name was changed again to Warrina Domestic and Family Violence Specialist Services Co-operative Ltd to reflect the full range of services provided by the organisation.
The Safer Pathways reform saw the introduction of the Central Referral Point database which allows NSW Police to refer all victims of domestic violence incidents for follow-up contact by the local WDVCAS. This took over from the WaTCHIT program which wound down at the same time and resulted in a massive increase in workload for the WDVCAS team, with only a small increase in funding.
The next stage of the Safer Pathways reform (yet to be announced for Coffs Harbour) will see the introduction of the Local Co-ordination Point and Safety Action Meetings, which aim to improve safety outcomes for women at significant threat from domestic violence.
In 2015, Warrina formed a consortium Kempsey Family Support Services (lead agency) and Port Macquarie Hastings Domestic and Family Violence Specialist Service to provide the Engage 2 Change men’s behaviour change pilot project. Warrina provides Victim’s Support to women victims of men engaged in the group in Coffs Harbour, as well as community education programs. The first groups began in Coffs Harbour in April, 2016.
In May 2016, Family and Community Services funded a two-year Domestic and Family Violence Response Enhancement package to the SHS, providing additional after-hours support for women and their children escaping domestic and family violence.
In June 2016, Family and Community Services funded the Staying Home Leaving Violence service. This service provides support to women ending a violent relationship, allowing them to remain safely in their own home.