Creating gender and trauma informed approaches

Wednesday, 1 March 2017 - 1:17pm

Homeless Link and AVA are working together to explore how gender and trauma informed models can support women experiencing homelessness. 

young homeless woman
Photo by Elizabeth Pennington

The partnership reflects:

  • An increased awareness within the homelessness sector of the need for better responses and models for women
  • An awareness from both AVA and Homeless Link of the value of promoting trauma informed models
  • A need for better partnership working between the homeless and Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) sectors
  • And that both sectors have identified that homeless services need to do better at understanding the violence and abuse women face.

Evidence of women having specific needs and experiences is very clear in St Mungo’s research Rebuilding Shattered Lives.

  • Women tend to have more complex and severe needs than homeless men
  • 44% of St Mungo’s female clients in 2013 had been abused by their partners and 19% had experienced abuse as a child
  • 70% had a mental health problem and 48% a substance use problem
  • 32% of the women they work with said that domestic violence contributed to their homelessness. (St Mungo’s Rebuilding Shattered Lives).

St Mungo’s calls for homeless services to be gender and trauma informed.

In addition to the evidence provided by the Rebuilding Shattered Lives report, the recently published national rough sleeping figures show that 14% of people found rough sleeping on a single night were women. This is only the tip of the iceberg and research by Crisis, St Mungo’s and the Women’s Rough Sleepers Project highlight that many women do not sleep visibly and are in a hidden homeless situation.

Homeless Link and AVA held a workshop in October 2016 to focus on these issues. The day included presentations from:

  • Nelson Trust on their trauma informed model of supporting women
  • King’s College London on research from the USA on addressing trauma and substance use
  • St Mungo’s on using psychotherapy with homeless women
  • AVA and Solace Women’s Aid on their work on creating psychologically informed environments in refuges.

The event highlighted that there is a lack of clarity from both VAWG and homeless services about what a trauma informed approach looks like. There was however consensus that:

  • Trauma informed approaches are models that recognise the trauma that people have faced in their lives and structure systems around recognising and responding to that trauma. AVA and Agenda have recently published a literature review on core components of trauma informed models.
  • At the core of recommendations are that responses must foster systems that enable internal safety for service users.  Thus, the Nelson’s Trust highlighted the importance of identifying people’s triggers and threats in order to create spaces where people are able to feel empowered.
  • Similarly, AVA and Solace Women’s Aid spoke about the importance of a whole-systems approach where every worker, including senior management, reflects on and understands their own trauma responses. 

The workshop ended with cross-sector discussions and the following recommendations for next steps:

  • The need for senior management to have training on trauma informed approaches
  • The need for homeless services to have specific training and awareness about what a gender-informed service should look like
  • Better partnership working between VAWG services and the homeless sector
  • The need for service user involvement to be at the heart of this work
  • The need for better data collection and evidence on the needs of women experiencing homelessness
  • The need for joined up campaigns and policy work to lobby for greater resources and specialist support services for women with multiple and complex needs.

Beyond any doubt was the enthusiasm and appetite for more help developing trauma informed approaches for women, and for the support sectors to work together in implementing these across all services.

Homeless Link and AVA will be working together to address the recommendations made during the workshop, focusing particularly on ways in which the sectors can collaborate to better support women experiencing homelessness who are victims of violence.