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Supervisor: Prof. Minna Sunikka-Blank

Heather Mitcheltree


Research overview:

Within Australia, Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) is a major national health and welfare issue that disproportionately impacts on women, children and vulnerable segments of the population. For the women and accompanying children forced to uproot their lives due to traumatic family situations, the experience of displacement, refuges, and short to medium term shelters is one of a forced liminal existence. The rate of those seeking specialist homelessness services as a result of DFV has steadily increased over the last decade, and there is a growing body of evidence in relation to the significant long term and often intergenerational health and social impacts of DFV and trauma. However, despite the health and social ramifications of DFV, there is very little research into the design of accommodation models for victims of domestic and family violence, nor on how past experiences of trauma and the shelter environment impact on health and wellbeing outcomes. This research seeks to examine whether the design and spatial structuring of domestic and family violence shelters has a significant impact on the health and wellbeing of women seeking refuge from DFV within Victoria, Australia. Through a mixed-methods examination of the shelter environment and the lived experiences of those within shelters, this research seeks to address some of the current knowledge gaps and provide of a better understanding of the impact of, and nexus between accommodation design and the health and well-being of the different subsets amongst those seeking shelter. 




Heather is a first year part-time PhD student. She holds a Bachelor of Arts, a Bachelor of Science, a Bachelor of Planning and Design (Architecture), and Master of Architecture. Currently employed by the Faculty of Architecture, Building and Planning at the University of Melbourne, Heather’s work focuses primarily on trauma-scapes, and interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and representing complex socio-spatial narratives and the psychological impact of the built environment. In addition to research and teaching, she engages in private creative design and art collaborations, and research consultation. Heather’s PhD is supported by the Henry and Rachael Ackman Travelling Scholarship. For information on publications see: Miss Heather Mitcheltree (