As a young girl growing up in the Far North, Hazel witnessed her grandparents and parents open their homes and their hearts to whānau and those in the wider community who needed support and a safe place.
“Our house was often full of people and our parents worked hard at home, at our marae and in the community, helping in whichever way they could,” says Hazel, who now lives in Tauranga with her husband and 19-year-old son.
“The notion of serving the community is in my blood so I’ve always felt this was my calling, my heart’s passion.”
It’s no surprise then that Hazel finds herself back at the Tauranga Women’s Refuge after former manager, Angela Warren-Clark, left to join the Labour Government as a List MP following last October’s election result.
They’re familiar shoes to fill as Hazel was the previous managerof the refuge from 2005 until 2012, when she left to work on the Glenn Inquiry, an independent inquiry into child abuse and domestic violence in New Zealand, handing the reins over to Angela at the time.
“You could say that the refuge is back in old hands, but with a new pair of eyes. Angela’s awesome opportunity has brought me home, but in saying that, when you have a passion for this kind of work it doesn’t ever leave you, so I never really left.”
Following the 18 months she spent on the Glenn Inquiry, Hazel worked at the national office of the Women’s Refuge in Wellington for another 18 months, and in 2015 returned to the Bay of Plenty to take on a lecturing position for the Bi-cultural Social Work degree offered by Te Wānanga o Aoteroa.
In May last year she took up a part-time Relationships Manager position with the National Stopping Violence Network (NSVN), made up of 30 affiliated specialist agencies throughout the country. It was here when Hazel received a phone call from Angela saying that the special votes from the election were in and she’d been allocated a seat in Parliament. She was leaving for Wellington in two days.
When asked if she would step in as acting manager of Tauranga Women’s Refuge – when she wasn’t at NSVN – Hazel didn’t hesitate to say yes.
“I’ve been on quite a journey since first leaving the refuge six years ago, and the time I’ve spent away from the front line of domestic violence has helped me evolve and gain more clarity.
“I’m now a lot calmer and more focused and deliberate about what my purpose is here at Women’s Refuge, and how I can support our staff and volunteers so families get the best help they need.”
The Tauranga Women’s Refuge was set up in June 1980 for local women and their children needing a safe place as a result of domestic violence – be it physical, emotional, sexual, financial or psychological.
While they’ve supported thousands of women, children and families in the Tauranga region for 38 years, Hazel says it’s only been in the last 10 years that they’ve started to receive more visibility and recognition in the community.
“Domestic violence used to be something that happened behind closed doors and was no-one else’s business. But as our voice has got stronger and people have become more aware of the positive impact that Women’s Refuge can make, we’ve found the community has really wrapped their arms around us and given their support.”
Services provided by the Tauranga Women’s Refuge include a 24-hour Crisis Phone Line, educational programmes for women and children, counselling, and a safe house that has capacity to sleep 10 individuals and which, Hazel says, is full most of the year.
“In the past, we’ve been called angry, man-haters, marriage-breakers, lesbians with hairy-armpits – you name it. In fact, we are the ones who pick up the pieces when families, whānau and communities can’t and won’t step up.”
They’ve worked hard to combat stereotypes of the people who receive their support, with domestic violence sometimes thought of as a “Māori problem”.
“The truth is domestic violence does not discriminate. It affects women from all races, social, cultural and economic backgrounds – from wealthy households to the impoverished.
“Doctors, lawyers, business families, younger women, older women – we have every facet of the community walking through our doors and calling our crisis lines. Domestic violence affects families in different ways.”
The Bay of Plenty’s increasing population continues to put extra pressure on the Tauranga refuge, as do other societal issues such as increased methamphetamine use, unemployment and homelessness.
This not only means that Women’s Refuge workers and facilities are under more pressure, the organisation’s finances are too.
“It takes $500,000 to run one refuge every year and the Government only contributes $189,000 of that. That’s almost $300,000 we have to find every year through fundraising, sponsorship and donations to keep our doors open and continue to save lives.
“Whenever people ask me how they can help Women’s Refuge, I tell them there are two ways that they can really make a difference right now. First, write a letter to your local MP and ask them to increase funding to the local refuge. And second, let me know if you have any skills or contacts that can help us with a fundraising strategy.”
Despite the constant financial pressures, it is the visits, phone calls, letters and emails Hazel receives from women the refuge has helped in the past that makes it all worth it.
“These women have shared how they’ve felt empowered to leave a relationship that’s not good for them, used tools provided by the refuge to help create a violence-free home, or felt compelled to give back to the community in their own ways – some as teachers, nurses, lawyers and social workers.
“To know that we’ve nurtured, inspired and empowered these women and children to find their voices, find their own strength, that’s why I do this work, that’s why it’s my passion.”
For Hazel, the rewards for pursuing her passion are also felt within her own family.
“The greatest legacy I can leave is that I have raised my son to be a good man who knows violence against women and children is not acceptable, and that women are to be treated with respect.
“Because at the end of the day domestic violence is not just an issue for women to solve. This kaupapa is about men and women working together to combat the problem. I’m grateful that my husband recognises this and I’m proud that my son does too.”
As this edition of focus was going to print the Government announced a significant funding boost of more than $76 million over the next four years for family violence services across the country. This will make a huge difference to agencies such as Tauranga Women’s Refuge, as well as those affected by family violence in our community.
You can support the Tauranga Women’s Refuge directly by donating at givealittle.co.nz/org/taurangarefuge
If you or someone you know is affected by domestic violence and needs help please contact:
Tauranga Women’s Refuge Crisis Phone Line
07 541 1911 or 0800 TO REFUGE (86 733843)24 hours a day, 7 days a week
For more information visit www.taurangawomensrefuge.co.nz