New 'Safe Haven' proposal for potential domestic abuse victims

With the number of reported domestic abuse incidents in Devon continuing to rise, a new initiative aims to tackle the shortage of emergency accommodation for people forced to flee their homes because of violence, or the threat of violence.

Under the Safe Haven scheme, they would be offered temporary accommodation in a volunteer family’s home, using the same model as Exeter’s Nightstop scheme for young people at risk of having to sleep rough.

The volunteer hosts, who would all receive full training, would provide the potential abuse victim with a safe and friendly place to stay, a hot meal, a bath or shower and a chance to wash their clothes.

The idea has been put forward by the Exeter charity Stop Abuse for Everyone (SAFE) which works across the county. It is organising a series of focus groups in seven locations across Devon, including Exeter, in March to explore the possibilities.

According to the latest figures available from the Office for National Statistics, there were 26,939 domestic abuse incidents and crimes recorded in Devon and Cornwall in the 12 months to March 2017. 

SAFE’s own experience of working with people affected by domestic abuse has clearly highlighted the need for more short-term emergency accommodation. There is a shortage of places across Devon, with the few refuges in the county being placed under enormous strain, and very few other options.

Charities and other organisations working to combat homelessness also report that many of the women sleeping rough on Devon’s streets have been forced out of their homes by domestic abuse. The Safe Haven initiative could reduce the pressure on these organisations and protect these vulnerable women from situations that could make their position even worse.

The purpose of the seven focus groups is to explore the possibility of setting up the Safe Haven scheme. An important aspect of this is ensuring the safety of the volunteer hosts, and this will be discussed at the meetings. SAFE are inviting interested parties to come along, including those working the field of domestic violence,and also members of the public who can contribute to the debate.

Jacinta Wainwright, Chief Executive of SAFE, said:

“We know there is an urgent need for safe and supportive accommodation for people at risk of domestic violence, and when someone is frightened for their own safety, they need to know that there’s a safe place for them, available that same night if necessary. While refuges and safe houses provide that security, it would be wonderful to be able to offer them a friendly host who would take them into their own home, cook them a meal, and provide a sympathetic ear.

“We also know that there are a lot of people out there already providing ‘unofficial’ emergency accommodation to a friend or relative who feels unsafe in their own home. The Safe Haven scheme would help them, and in fact we’d very much like to hear from people in that position at our focus group meetings.”

The focus group meetings will be held in Tiverton, Tavistock, Barnstaple, Newton Abbot, Sidmouth, Ivybridge and Exeter – details below:

Tiverton: Sunningmead Community Centre, Lazenby Road. Wednesday 14th March 2018, 1.30 till 4.30pm.
Tavistock: Rundle Room, Tavistock Town Hall, Bedford Square. Tuesday 13th March, 9.30 till 12.30pm.
Barnstaple: Castle Centre, Main Hall, 25 Castle Street, Friday 16th March 10.30 till 1.30pm.
Newton Abbot: Teignbridge District Council Offices, Forde House, Brunel Road, Newton Abbot Monday 19th March 1.30 till 3.30pm.
Sidmouth; Stowford Community Centre Chambers Close Tuesday 20th March 12.30 till 4pm.
Ivybridge: Committee Room, Chapel Community Centre, Ivybridge Wednesday 21st March, 9.30 till 12 noon.
Exeter: Old Deanery, Cathedral Close, Friday 23rd March 1.00pm till 4pm.