In our East London services, it has become clear that women who experience homelessness often face challenges that need specific kinds of support. Women often fly under the radar of services. Maybe they avoid detection because they have had negative experiences in the past or maybe services are not equipped to address the underlying, complex causes of female homelessness. We hope, as the pandemic has highlighted that homelessness solutions can be created and implemented quickly, that the needs of disadvantaged women will be taken more seriously. 

So what should we see more of in the future? 

1. Ring-fenced accommodation for women

We often see our female clients come to us at a time of crisis. Maybe they have had to leave a dangerous domestic situation or have been forced out of their homes for another reason. Either way, they need and deserve immediate, safe housing and there simply isn’t enough.

Many of the women that we work with have been exploited, often by men, and are at risk of it happening again. They need a physical safe space for their recovery journeys which keep them away from risk. Women’s-only supported accommodation or individual housing is the answer to this need and yet there is so little of it available. 

Project Kali has been a great solution for this. It is a female-only project which follows the Housing First model and has allowed us to house and offer intensive support to 15 women who have faced huge challenges in their lives. This kind of initiative needs to be widespread.  

2. Access to specialised therapy 

At SHP we try to create a trauma-informed way of working with our clients. The women we work with have often faced specific traumas like domestic violence, abuse and having children taken away. The toll of these experiences is huge and specialist support is required to help women deal with the enormity of what they’ve been through. 

3. A better way of recognising homelessness 

When we think of homelessness, we often envision rough sleeping. But it’s so much more complicated than that. Women facing homelessness are far more likely to be ‘hidden homeless’, meaning that they are sofa surfing or staying in dangerous and exploitative relationships to avoid sleeping rough. When they do sleep rough, they are often on the move to try and stay safe. This makes them harder to find and less likely to fit the strict criteria needed to be classed as homeless and access support. 

We need to take our recognition of homelessness away from chain numbers, tick box exercises and our preconceived ideas of what homelessness looks like. 

4. Integrated services 

Women’s services, health services and housing and immigration support often operate in silos. When all of these elements are placed together, we can support our female clients to recovery in every area of their lives. These services need to become cohesive and work together towards the common goal of supporting clients to recovery.