Few options left for vulnerable women
Fear of homelessness is stopping at-risk women leaving violent homes, Christchurch women's refuge centres say.
Some centres have been receiving daily calls from women pleading to be rehomed and say the average stay in safe houses has climbed from three weeks to three months.
Some services have been hit with a demand increase of 90 per cent.
Nicola Woodward, Christchurch Women's Refuge chief executive, said some high-risk women and children had turned to cars, garages and friends' couches after leaving violent households.
The refuge had raised the issue with government departments over the past year, she said.
National Collective of Independent Women's Refuges chief executive Heather Henare said it was a "worrying problem".
The shortage of affordable and social housing in Christchurch had left women with few options, she said.
Private rentals were difficult to secure for single mothers, and in the city's inflated market they were also highly unaffordable, she said.
Housing New Zealand usually prioritised at-risk women, but Henare said recent policy changes had left some HNZ staff advising vulnerable women to leave their home, reapply and "join the back of the waiting list along with everyone else".
She believed this was being felt "10 times worse in Christchurch", and she had raised the issue with Housing Minister Phil Heatley.
Battered Women's Trust acting manager Heather Smith said some women were staying in abusive relationships because they felt "they have nowhere else to go".
The refuge's safe house was regularly full, and women were staying for up to three months at a time, she said.
Christchurch West Women's Refuge manager Diane Haar said the demand for community services had increased by 90 per cent, and another fulltime staff member had been hired since the earthquakes.
Otautahi Maori Women's Refuge manager Ariana Mataki said the problem had doubled since 2010, with the length of stays and rotation pattern of returning women increasing.
The refuge was now supporting women to transfer out of the city.
"Their options are to leave a violent relationship and not have a home or stay and be homed," she said.
HNZ said it was not an "emergency housing provider" but it made provisions for urgent housing requests, including domestic-violence cases.
"There are fewer state houses available in Canterbury following the earthquakes, but we are still providing housing for people in need," a spokesman said.
Violent home was only place to stay
After building up the courage to leave her violent partner, a Christchurch mother had no choice but to sleep in her car and couch-surf or go back to her abusive relationship.
The woman, who wanted to be known only as Jane, had been trying to leave her violent home for four months.
Lack of affordable rental properties in the city had forced her to live in unsuitable conditions and even return to the abusive relationship.
"I first left him in February, but I went back. I had to; there was nowhere else for me to go," she said.
She had been in an abusive relationship with her former partner for two years and despite being "punched and kicked" in her own home, she still loved him.
On the nights when she "couldn't stay there any longer", she left with blankets and pillows and slept in her two- door car.
Jane did not want to seek help from refuge centres because she did not want to believe it had "got that bad".
Three weeks ago, she walked away from her partner and had been sleeping on a friend's couch since.
Since she first tried to leave in February, she said she had applied to get on the Housing New Zealand emergency waiting list and had searched for a rental home every day, to no avail. Either the rental price was too high or she was competing with too many other tenants, she said.
"It's pretty lonely and hard," she said.
Her 7-year-old son had been staying with his father because her living conditions were not suitable, she said.
Jane was "hanging in there" until she started a dairy farming job in August, which "thankfully" came with a free house.