“What do I want from the future? To have a home, and be safe.” - Housing First pilot client 

Fulfilling Lives Islington and Camden (FLIC) did not originally plan to focus on supporting women experiencing domestic abuse. When the project began in 2014, the target client group were men or women who were experiencing multiple disadvantage in all of four key areas – homelessness, offending behaviour, substance misuse and mental ill health. However, as the project became operational and referrals came flooding in from a wide spectrum of agencies across Camden and Islington, two trends became clear.  

Firstly, there were an unprecedented number of referrals for women – 50%, when at the time data suggested that those experiencing multiple disadvantage and homelessness were predominantly male (Lankelly Chase, 2015).  

Secondly, it became clear that the needs of these women were different to that of men’s, and required a specialist, gender-informed understanding and response. Most significantly, FLIC learned that 90% of the women we were supporting were currently, or had previously, experienced gender-based violence and abuse; worryingly, 0% of them were accessing specialist support in this area. 

“I went back to him because I had no-where to go. If I had my own home, I would have been safer.” -Housing First pilot client 

Over the last few years, there has been increasing recognition of the linked experiences of gender-based violence, homelessness and multiple disadvantage. From speaking to partner agencies and commissioners locally and nationally, FLIC knew that this problem went far beyond our client base – it was clear that women experiencing multiple disadvantage and gender-based violence were unquestionably some of the hardest to reach, and were often at the highest risk. These were women who were not willing or able to speak to workers by phone, complete assessments or attend appointments with domestic abuse services. They were traumatised, fearful of services, homeless, mentally unwell and in active addiction – all of which made it extremely difficult for them to engage with any kind of safety planning or support.  

FLIC recognised that no one agency or sector were able to deal with this complexity in isolation, and that in order to reach and support these women holistically, we needed to collaborate and share skills. Having allocated 70k of FLIC’s funding to create a pilot project to better support women, in October 2016, FLIC hosted an event to bring together people from across Camden and Islington – clients, those with lived experience of using services, commissioners, women’s sector specialists, and homelessness specialists, to agree the outline of the pilot. The response to the question “What do these women want and need?” was overwhelmingly clear and unanimous – safe, secure housing; holistic, strengths-based support, and one worker they could trust.    

“This kind of project gives us the chance and opportunity to reach those women who have just fallen through the net every step of the way.” - Solace management 

From this feedback, FLIC, consulting closely with Solace Women’s Aid and Islington council, created the project specification and plan – a Housing First model that would support women in Islington who were homeless, and who were experiencing multiple disadvantage and domestic abuse. As the pilot budget would only allow for five beneficiaries to be supported, it was agreed that women at highest risk would be prioritised, with all referrals identified by the Islington MARAC as repeat, high risk, and not engaging with other services. It was agreed that the project, though first and foremost a housing intervention, should be delivered by a specialist domestic abuse organisation, in order to combine best practise from the homelessness and women’s sector jointly. The project began in May 2018, delivered by Solace. 

“It’s the only control I got in my life you know - this place.” - Housing First pilot client 

The pilot ran for 18 months and demonstrated significant positive outcomes. All women participated in in-depth evaluation interviews to share their experiences of the project. Of the four women who remained beneficiaries of the project (one woman never engaged fully with the project and was transferred to an alternative support service), 100% have accessed and maintained safe, secure independent accommodation (three council properties, one housing association property). All women engaged consistently with the specialist worker around their substance misuse, mental health, and physical health needs. All women were supported to claim benefits, and all were supported with connecting with family or community inclusion.  

Most significantly, all the women opened up to the specialist worker about their experiences of current domestic abuse, and previous trauma. Three out of four women over time felt able to exit abusive relationships. Two women reported abuse to the police and one woman pursued a court order. No services had previously been able to address these issues with the women, or to help them access sustainable housing. 

“Everything has changed now. Before it was just like day to day, minute by minute but now I can kind of look forward for the first time.” - Housing First pilot client 

Due to the success of the pilot, Islington council have now agreed to fund the project as a commissioned VAWG service for the next three years, and hopefully beyond, with Solace again successful in their bid to deliver the project and FLIC remaining a strategic partner. Following Islington’s lead, in 2019 Westminster also commissioned a specialist Housing First for women experiencing VAWG, which Solace are also delivering.  

It is exciting to see the continuation and expansion of these specialists projects, and what they demonstrate is what we know to be true – that with cross sector collaboration, we really can make a difference to the lives of disadvantaged women who desperately need what everyone needs - to have a home, and be safe.   

To find out more about the Housing First women’s pilot please contact our Operational Development Manager Lucy Campbell – [email protected]. 

If you, or anyone you know, is experiencing domestic abuse you can talk in confidence and receive support from the team at Solace Women’s Aid on 0808 802 5565.