‘Women experiencing homelessness’ conjures up many different images of women.
First national conference on women’s homelessness
The event brought together over 200 delegates including women with lived experience, the Minister for Housing and Homelessness, Heather Wheeler MP, local and central government officials, funders and representatives from the homelessness, women’s, criminal justice, substance misuse and mental health sectors.
It was a day packed full of testimonies from women and stories of pioneering projects and approaches from organisations supporting women. There were calls to action for policy and systems change that we hope will see the spirit of the day taken forward into actual change for women experiencing homelessness. The camaraderie in the room was powerful, the will to work together, to do better, to make change and collectively persist in this movement to empower women who experience homelessness and a commitment to end homelessness for good.
The conference was opened by Jacqui McCluskey, Director of Policy and Communications at Homeless Link, who led with a clear message to delegates that the event was about shining a spotlight on women’s homelessness, the vital need for more services and for services to be gender and trauma informed. Jacqui highlighted the promising practice showcased in Homeless Link’s upcoming research on gender informed homelessness services, and the truly innovative partnership approaches these services are taking to supporting women experiencing multiple disadvantage.
Throughout the day 15 workshops were delivered sharing expertise and learning from front-line services and women with lived experience, including:
- Exploring gender differences in experiences of trauma and how this impacts on how women seek support and help – Women at the Well, London
- Women, Violence and Immigration Control: a model practice of working to support marginalised, destitute women who are homeless or at risk of homelessness – Safety4Sisters, Manchester
- Implementing a gender informed Housing First service: improving outcomes for homeless women – Threshold, Manchester
- Providing co-ordinated, gender informed services to support women facing multiple needs – Homeless Link and Women’s Resource Centre
Heather Wheeler MP, gave a ministerial address to delegates. She acknowledged the specific, and different, needs of women experiencing homelessness, the violence and trauma that lies at the root of many women’s journeys into and during homelessness, and the Government’s commitment in the Rough Sleeping Strategy to supporting services and developing gender and trauma informed approaches that recognise women’s specific needs. The Minister’s presence at the conference, alongside members of her team from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, was evidence of this recognition and we look forward to working with the Government in seeking sustainable solutions to women’s homelessness.
The final panel of the day saw bold and poignant speeches about we can do to change the situation for women experiencing homelessness. As one delegate said, “the causes of homelessness are gendered and so our approach should be!”
Two voices during this panel stood out strongly. They both spoke fiercely about their own experiences and about what we must now do to create change. Helen Gavaghan from MEAM (Making Every Adult Matter) spoke about how, in many ways, women are set up against each other and this disrupts women connecting, “we must break down the “us and them” in-house so we can tackle the “us and them” in the wider system!”
Poppy Noor from the Guardian’s final comments as she closed the day drew on her own experiences of homelessness as a teenager and exposed the vast disparity between actual experiences of poverty and people’s perceptions of poverty. She said, “women’s homelessness must have intersectionality and the structural inequalities that are the cause and consequence of homelessness at the core”.
An enormous thank you to all our panel speakers, workshop leaders and delegates who came from far and wide to be part of this both humbling and inspirational day. Homeless Link will be working to realise and harness this collective voice and learning over the coming year, starting with the publication of our research on Gender Informed Homelessness Services in 2019.