Sanctuary provides safe haven for women

The Gold Coast’s new purpose-built bridging-accommodation facility for women and children who have escaped domestic violence, called Bella’s Sanctuary, is about to welcome its first tenant.


Bella’s Sanctuary is a purpose-built facility that consists of five units, each with their own kitchenette, living area and courtyard. Photo: DVConnect/RDW Photography

The five-unit facility, which is located on the northern end of the Gold Coast, is managed by Queensland domestic and family violence support organisation, DVConnect.

Queensland developer Halcyon came up with the idea to build Bella’s, in collaboration with DVConnect and listed property group Mirvac.

Working alongside Halcyon and Mirvac, who funded the land, build and design of the facility, were 90 South East Queensland tradespeople, who contributed goods and services to the project.

Once completed, the $1.67 million facility was then donated to DVConnect, who now manage the referral system and operational logistics of housing women and children at Bella’s Sanctuary.

The facility is designed to allow women and children to access independent living while rebuilding their lives.

Sophie McCashin from DVConnect said building a facility of this kind on the Gold Coast was made possible through private funding, which was an Australian first.

“We believe it is an Australian first in terms of the first time [the] corporate and community sector have partnered together to provide a solution to the problem around domestic and family violence specific to housing,” Ms McCashin said.

“We’re pretty proud of it.”

DVConnect CEO Beck O’Connor said the first tenants for Bella’s had been confirmed, with more women and children set to move into the facility in coming weeks.

“This is a new venture for DVConnect, so we needed to put everything in place, and we needed to work with, particularly refuges, about what the referral process was going to look like and how we would actually go through a selection process for people who were going to be moving into the property,” Ms O’Connor said.


Halcyon project director Marie Cone and managing director Paul Melville at the launch of Bella’s Sanctuary. Photo: Courtesy DVConnect/RDW Photography


“We’ve just got someone who will be moving in and we’re very excited, a mum and her young bub will be moving into the facility, and then it’s full steam ahead from there,” she said.

Like many women and children who have left homes due to domestic violence, Bella’s first tenant has already spent time in a refuge.

Sophie McCashin said this would be the case for most of the women referred to Bella’s.

“The majority of women and children we would be placing at Bella’s would most likely already have gone through the refuge system because, again, this isn’t a refuge model, it’s a bridging accommodation model, so that secondary step,” Ms McCashin said.

Beck O’Connor said bridging accommodation and transitional houses, like Bella’s Sanctuary, were important for helping women rebuild their lives before moving into fully independent living.

“It’s a different option and it’s a mid to long-term option,” Ms O’Connor said.

“Refuges are around emergency accommodation, so that’s obviously where we’re managing a critical and emergent need, whereas this is actually where women have the opportunity to slow the pace down a bit and to have a place that’s secure for a longer tenancy,” she said.

“So they can start to rebuild their lives, re-establish or establish a connection to community, to give time for kids, for their children to be settled in schools, and also to have some breathing room to access the services they need to do that.”

For many individuals, refuges are the first point of call when escaping domestic violence situations.

While refuges are for duration of need, women still need suitable housing options post-refuge, which can be difficult to find.

“Refuges in Queensland are basically for duration of need for that individual client or for that woman, so there wouldn’t really be situations, or it wouldn’t be common for there to be situations, where a woman leaves refuge without having somewhere set up or somewhere more sustainable to go,” Ms McCashin said.

“In saying that, because there’s such a high demand for refuges, there really needs to be more options post-refuge.”


Bella’s Sanctuary is a safe haven for women and children who have left domestic violence situations. Photo: Courtesy DVConnect/RDW Photography


Last year, DVConnect housed 3300 women and children in refuges across Queensland.

They also placed 4000 women and children in Queensland motels because the available shelters were full.

National charity Mission Australia works to reduce homelessness and assist disadvantaged families and children.

Their latest report “Out of the shadows: Domestic and family violence, a leading cause of homelessness in Australia”, found domestic and family violence was one of the main reasons women and children became homeless in Australia.

This is partly due to a lack of accommodation options for individuals leaving domestic violence situations, with the report citing a need for more housing options including crisis and transitional accommodation, like Bella’s Sanctuary.

Mission Australia’s report also found a need for better supported options for independent living, including social housing, affordable private rentals that are accessible to people escaping violence, and support services to assist people to find and maintain a tenancy.

Jaquelin Plummer from Mission Australia said this would require more corporate funding and commitment from the government.

“Corporate funding is important to meet local need in relation to housing and homelessness, and it will take everyone in the community to end homelessness,” Ms Plummer said.

“However, meeting the scale of need across Australia for social and affordable housing requires commitment from all levels of government… [and] action from the government is critical to responding to domestic and family violence, and resulting homelessness,” she said.

Sophie McCashin said this was one of the reasons why having a facility like Bella’s Sanctuary on the Gold Coast was important.


Bella's Sanctuary Gold Coast
Transitional houses act as a secondary step post-refuge, giving women time to rebuild their lives and look for long-term options. Photo: Courtesy DVConnect/RDW Photography


“There’s limited access to affordable housing at the moment across various parts of Queensland and particularly in the Gold Coast, which is why Bella’s provides a different option,” Ms McCashin said.

Beck O’Connor said the lack of affordable housing was one of the reasons they were hoping to have more transitional houses built for women across all parts of the state.

“That would be our hope, because it’s that next step beyond refuges,” Ms O’Connor said.

A transitional housing facility like Bella’s Sanctuary can fill that gap, providing a stepping stone, post-refuge, for women and children before they access longer term, sustainable accommodation.

Beck O’Connor said they were hoping to use Bella’s as a template for future projects and to see more corporate organisations get involved to help women and children affected by domestic and family violence.

“This first 12 months is really important, it’s how we put the template together so we can look to replicate this,” Ms O’Connor said.

“I think that giants like Mirvac and Halcyon have really put down the challenge to other major corporations to say ‘look what can be done’, that’s what’s really exciting about all of this,” she said.

“There’s a real groundswell at the moment across Queensland for corporates wanting to become involved in this kind of work, in real and tangible ways, so I think in terms of a template, this is really inspiring.”