Hive Village vision:
Imagine leaving crisis accommodation and arriving at a large property, much like a tourist cabin park. A large communal (edible) garden is nearby next to a fenced, inclusive playground with BBQ area for people of all abilities. You soon realize this is a close-knit community of families getting a true fresh start after abuse, where lifelong friends and support can flourish.
After a welcome induction, risk assessment and tour of the village, you are presented with your keys to your own, fully furnished (right down to the toothbrushes and cutlery), self-contained 1-3bd unit. You start to breathe easier, knowing there are 24hr on-site security and social workers as well as visiting community and health services.
You and your children can settle in and make it your own, knowing that you'll pay minimal expenses for the next 2yrs, whilst you heal from your trauma, up-skill, self-care, attend education and training or save enough money to exit the welfare system, with financial and social independence. Hive Village Project aims to provide dignity and empowering, client-centred care, into transitional housing. #hivevillageproject
Mel is a single mother of two from Sydney who has started over from scratch due to domestic and family violence, more than once. Understanding the impacts and tactics associated with family violence (from the inside, out) as well as in an intimate relationship dynamics, where trauma has remained a theme along her lifespan.
After the birth of her second child, Mel realized her purpose, re-skilling from the corporate world and attended further and tertiary education in Community Services and Social Science. Adding industry qualifications to decades of lived experiences, Mel is relentlessly determined to channel her past for a greater good and create the services she wish existed – Hive Village Project.
To date, Mel’s lived experiences and/or knowledge includes:
Domestic and Family Violence:
- Power and control dynamics, types of violence and their impacts
- Frontline responses and community services
- Intergenerational trauma and how this impacts families across generations
- DFV in Culturally and linguistically diverse communities (CALD)
- Chronic health issues stemming from childhood trauma and exposure to DFV
- Animal abuse in the context of family violence
- Consent, sexual violence and harassment
- Survivor networks and support
- DV Court Advocacy
- Child Protection practices and mandatory reporting
- Social justice and advocacy
- Human Services
- Australian Housing providers and issues
- Client intake and needs assessment
- Vulnerable groups and support services
- Trauma Informed Care practices
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Complex PTSD (C-PTSD)
- Mental health advocacy and support services
- Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES)
- Alcohol and other drug addictions
- Suicide of a family member
- Suicide prevention and warnings signs
- Indigenous Communities and indigenous social issues
- Impacts of colonisation and intergenerational trauma
- Cultural competence and culturally safe practices
- Youth & Homelessness services in Australia
- Youth Mental Health first aid certificate
Currently in NSW, there are certain barriers that exist for women, men and children fleeing family violence, which include:
1) Lack of accessible, modified homes (for people with disabilities) and their pets, leaving family violence.
2) Men currently don't have any self-contained crisis accommodation to cater for them or their children.
3) Women with teenage sons often cannot go to the same crisis accommodation, splitting up siblings from their mother, which can be another reason women stay with their abuser instead.
4) Pets are exempt from staying with family and are often left behind or an additional reason for women to stay in and/or delay leaving violent relationships.
5) Crisis accommodation is communal living with less sense of privacy and hard to explain to children, and can be much further from their workplace/school.
6) Only homes under 'Staying Home, Leaving Violence' are eligible for security upgrades to install CCTV kits on their homes. It is a last resort for Social/Community Housing to approve security upgrades due to cost.
7) The safest long-term option currently for women and children to escape violence is to relocate their entire lives, further isolating them and having to completely start over again with new support networks and schooling.
8) Once women and children exit short-term crisis accommodation they feel incredibly exposed back in the community without anonymity and integrated services, feeling like prisoners in their own homes, afraid of their abuser finding them.
9) Large outgoing costs of rent and utility bills once adults move into private rentals on a long-term basis on one or no income.
Hive Village Project proposes to solve each of the above issues by the following:
1) Customizing shipping container homes, including accessible models for people with disabilities (move-in ready, without having to wait for the modifications to be made after tenants move in). Container Build Group can turnaround these homes within weeks. They are fully customizable, secure, transportable, safe and cost effective. HVP units will require little to no maintenance long-term and leave a smaller eco footprint than traditional builds.
2) Design a self-contained model which allows for privacy and gender-neutral eligibility.
3) No age limit for older children, being self-contained homes, the family unit can stay together without jeopardizing the safety/risk of other tenants like in a crisis accommodation setting.
4) Indoor pets may be able to come with the families fleeing violence, once a risk assessment is undertaken. Companion animals are a great comfort for children going through change and will provide a sense of familiarity whilst settling into their new homes with their furry family member.
5) HVP aims to utilize current space available within each major council, starting with Ryde so that families starting over don't have to travel further away to access housing. Having the independence of self-contained units will hopefully provide the motivation for some women to flee their abuser (as some stay due to not wanting to move into a refuge setting).
6) All units will be fitted with security systems, including panic buttons inside for urgent police assistance. HVP believes that peace of mind is worth the financial investment and should be the standard for survivors of violence.
7) HVP believes that parents and their children have suffered enough, without having to uplift their lives and start somewhere new. Keeping the children in their current social and support circle can make an enormous difference to their mental health (safety permitting).
8) With integrated services, both on-site and home visits by local service providers, HVP tenants can feel less isolated and well supported, whilst beginning their new lives.
9) Utilizing sustainable features, such as solar and rain water tanks, as well as organic community gardens for fresh produce, HVP aims to build a mini-village that is self-sustaining, long-term, whilst also having on-grid support in the local community for technology requirements. This will cut the overhead costs to both HVP and its residents.
Current industry issues:
In some shelters, keeping the children with their mother in the same crisis accommodation isn't possible due to age/gender. Those that can stay together, often share 1 bedroom for the duration of their stay, with shared communal areas. Some larger shelters accommodate up to 15 families at the same time. Alternative overflow temporary accommodation such as caravan parks or motels come with their own risks, such as the recent audit into crisis accommodation which showed women and children being kept in facilities which also had convicted criminals staying in nearby rooms: Seven out of 58 emergency accommodation facilities – made up of hotels and caravan parks – were removed from the department’s list of providers after Newcastle Herald articles revealed women escaping domestic violence were being referred to facilities where men on parole or out of jail were staying.
The Herald also revealed drugs were an issue at some facilities. Source: http://www.theherald.com.au/story/4109884/seven-dropped-after-audit/
The Hive Village difference:
Hive Village Project is designed by someone who has experienced abuse and starting over from scratch, encountering all the barriers along the way (and multiple rental application knock backs), trying to get a fresh start with kids in tow while doing anything possible to have consistency for the children.
Shipping container homes are gaining global popularity for their ingenious designs and much lower price points than traditional homes. They are readily available, mobile and quick to setup and customizable to individual needs. HVP wishes to design our homes with external cladding to mimic a traditional build.
Currently only 2 women's shelters in Sydney cater for pets, yet they are kept in enclosures outside, away from their owners (due to living in communal homes) and 0 facilities for male victims with children.
My long-term goal is to establish new eco-villages across Australia for domestic violence survivors and people experiencing homelessness. Starting with a pilot site, in a hotspot or regional area in NSW, Our villages can be setup in any climate in Australia, especially rural or regional areas to tackle the horrific cases of DV in our Indigenous communities.
- Security on-site 24/7
- Vet & medical access
- Social Worker & Psych services
- Childcare facilities (Offering employment opportunities)
- Legal & Financial counselling clinics
- Community Bus for school drop off (wheelchair friendly)
- Hot desk study areas and communal equipment for business and homework purposes (Printer/Scanner etc.)
- Visiting services such as hairdresser, dry cleaning, physio, post.
- Accessible units by design, not modification.
- Community garden patches/greenhouse
- Inclusive play spaces
- External cafe for visitors or child access visits
- BBQ areas to encourage socializing
- Site office for outreach services
Land (location and price):
The sheer enormity and equal importance of this project go hand in hand. I feel that the biggest hurdle will be acquiring vacant acreage and gaining the proper approvals for the dwellings.
Shipping container home providers:
Container Build Group is my preferred provider, due to their turnaround time and experience but I'm open to discussing the same specs with local suppliers.
- The units would need to be 3 bedrooms, 2 x 60ft containers each, plus decking.
- Complete fit outs including solar energy for electricity and solar hot water and/or wall battery banks.
- Green walls containing herbs and edible gardens and rainwater tanks.
- Wheelchair accessible layouts and safety aids must be available for several of the units.
- Internal/external companion animal spaces.
As the government reduces funding for shelters and vital services, I'm hoping for private investors and corporate support so funding cuts and extra red tape won't be a barrier. If this gains any media traction then hopefully things may kick off.
Having completed Cert III in Community Services (2017) and partly Cert IV Community Services (2017), Mel is now in her first year of a Bachelor of Social Science at University of Newcastle.
Mel thoroughly enjoyed attending the National Housing Conference 2017 in Sydney and was able to immerse herself into the Housing sector and networks.
How have donations been invested?
Mel has been privileged to grasp opportunities without hesitation, thanks to the generous donations received so far. It has helped to order, print and distribute business cards at DV Industry Events (and their associated travel costs) and attend workshops to greater improve her understanding of current issues victims and survivors face in NSW and to anticipate and plan for any future reform changes.
These events are not just dynamite for networking but also guide Mel to meet with established services and programs that are running in various areas of Sydney (and beyond) to form long-term connections for the future and has led to a few guest speaker opportunities also.
The funds raised have also gone towards tertiary enrolments to secure placements for full-time study.
Highlights so far:
- Hope and Heal Retreat attendee (a free retreat for DV survivors to learn trauma healing strategies and self love/care) 2018
- Mel is one of the DV Survivor stories book contributor "Emerge" by The Red Heart Campaign & Because We Care (coming soon...) 2017
- Panel guest speaker at Share the Dignity, Sydney Dignitea Event May 2017 (500pax)
- Guest speaker at Northern Sydney Institute of TAFE to my Community Services Advocacy class March 2017
- Nominated for an 'Australian of the Year Local Hero' award Feb 2017
- Impromptu speaker at 'Lucy's Project' Conference in Sydney - Nov 2016
Networking Industry Events:
- WDVCAS NSW Conference June 2018
- TedX Sydney 2018
- TedX Sydney 2017
- Share The Dignity, Sydney Dignitea 2017
- National Housing Conference 2017
- Animal Justice Party Xmas function 2016
- Lucy's Project Conference 2016
- Human Right's Awards 2016
- Holroyd-Cumberland DV Forum 2016
Education & Training:
- Bachelor of Social Science major Human Services (2018-2020)
- Youth Mental Health First Aid Certificate
- Certificate IV - Community Services at Northern Sydney Institute of TAFE (Jul-Dec 2017 deferred due to deaths in the family).
- Certificate III - Community Services at Northern Sydney Institute of TAFE 2017 (Jan-Jun 2017) (incl. 80hrs student placement at a Community Aid and Information service.)
How can you help?
I'd truly appreciate any contribution you're able to make and share, for me to attend industry events where I can continue to establish solid network contacts.
If you know of any contacts that would be interested in this project, please forward this on to them.
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Everyone deserves shelter, without additional barriers.
Thank you for reading.