At the end of a suburban Dunedin street sits a brick house.
It is nothing special to look at, quite underwhelming really.
Inside is much the same, bedrooms with beds, a nice lounge
and functional kitchen.
But sheltered behind its walls are women and children who
have reached breaking point.
They come with heartbreaking stories, seeking support and
understanding. They leave with a sense of independence and
They are the victims of domestic violence who seek solace in
one of Te Whare Pounamu Dunedin Women's Refuge safe houses.
The refuge opened the doors of one of its two safe houses to
the Otago Daily Times in the hope of raising awareness of the
work they do, and dispelling the many misconceptions
Kerri Oliver, of the refuge residential services, said women
either assumed, or were told, safe houses were filthy and
they would be taken advantage of there.
"They expect to have to share rooms with other women and
children; that it's pretty budget. Our stuff is not
beautiful, but we look after it as best we can. We pride
ourselves on having a clean, safe house," she said.
The house, rented from Housing New Zealand, contained four
bedrooms, two singles and two family rooms, a kitchen and
dining area, lounge and bathroom.
At the rear of the property was a self-contained unit which
was used by women going through a "shock phase".
The second women's refuge safe house in Dunedin was
purpose-built in the 1980s and had eight bedrooms.
If both houses were full, accommodation would be found at a
motel, or the women would be transferred to safe houses in
Invercargill or Timaru.
Ms Oliver believed some people "kind of" knew where the
houses were, but there had never been any trouble.
"We've never had a guy who has rocked up to the door," she
Women, and their children, were brought to the safe house
when a call was made to the refuge crisis line by either the
woman herself, someone she knew, the police, emergency
department or Child Youth and Family.
The woman would be met at a neutral location to be
interviewed and then brought to the house.
On arrival, they were given food, enough for them to have
before going to Work and Income for a food grant, a toiletry
pack, pyjamas and clean underwear.
"When people come into the safe houses, they have come with
This is the last resort for them," Ms Oliver said.
The women were made as comfortable as possible and lived
their lives as normally as they could.
"Basically, we just walk through the steps with them.
Sometimes, it's baby steps, and other times some of them are
that self-sufficient that they just take off walking."
Refuge staff did not stay on site, but Ms Oliver and
residential services manager Darlene Gore visited as often as
they could. A team of four women worked night shifts and
weekends manning the crisis line.
About three years ago, Plunket staff, lawyers, the police
family violence co-ordinator, and health nurses started
visiting, as required.
"I think it's really important you can access those things
when you are in the safe house," Miss Gore said.
Women were offered access to counselling, support in allowing
their partners to contact the children, and help in setting
up new lives.
The refuge also ran domestic violence education programmes
for women and children.
"For us, it's all about family. We need to make sure things
are safe for everyone."