Promising practice: Gender-informed approaches to supporting women who are homeless

Friday, 8 March 2019 - 12:56pm

Today on International Women’s Day, we publish our year-long scoping study exploring gendered approaches to supporting women who are homeless and facing multiple disadvantage.

The research, commissioned in collaboration with the Women’s Resource Centre, looks at what services are seeing when supporting women who are homeless and facing multiple disadvantage and identifies promising practice already happening to support them.

What services are seeing

We asked 90 services and people suporting women experience homelessness and multiple disadvantage what they were seeing. Over two thirds of the survey respondents (69%) reported they had seen an increase in the numbers of women with multiple disadvantage presenting to their service over the last two years, and that women are presenting to services having experienced a wide range of violence against women and girls (VAWG).

These results back up what services have been seeing for some time, that women are experiencing a broad range of violence and abuse across the VAWG spectrum separating out experiences from domestic abuse and sexual violence, FGM, to stalking and harassment. It also shows that these women are experiencing mental health problems and substance use issues. The recognition of this complexity and experience is vital to any engagement and support approaches designed and implemented for women experiencing homelessness.

The research has identified some of the creative, innovative and partnership responses that a range of community services are taking in response to these needs, including from services that are completely designed to support women with multiple disadvantage.

What are the elements of effective support for women who are experiencing homelessness and multiple disadvantage

We found through speaking with services and women themselves that there are common factors that enhance the effectiveness of support for women experiencing multiple disadvantage:

  • Organisational commitment to work from an understanding of women’s lived experience of inequality
  • Service design which incorporates gendered approaches – incorporating the understanding of the impacts of VAWG and how to respond appropriately
  • Organisational structures: policies, staff recruitment training and support - implementing policies which embed a gendered approach, recruiting knowledgeable, empathic, compassionate and resilient staff that are trained on violence against women

During the evidence gathering and fieldwork phases of this research a strong theme running through responses was the need for services to work from a gendered perspective, an understanding of women’s lived experience of inequality. That these gendered approaches recognise the trauma of VAWG and worked from a trauma-informed perspective. The report highlights promising practice in these approaches throughout and in particular the five case studies of approaches taken by The Lancashire Women’s Centre, The Green Room Women Only Nightshelter, St Mungo’s Endell Street Mixed Hostel, Brighton Women’s Centre and Threshold Housing First.

What should we be doing about it

The recommendations from the report show a clear direction for better supporting women who are homeless and facing multiple disadvantage. We need to develop a central Government strategy that recognises women’s specific experiences of multiple disadvantage and the support they require, while also addressing the structural causes of homelessness.

We need to see funding for gender specific specialist services, approaches for women who are homeless facing multiple disadvantage, and in particular for women with No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) who are left destitute with no support in the current system.

Overwhelmingly, the report reflects that it is important to use gendered and trauma-informed approaches when supporting women who are experiencing homeless and multiple disadvantage. We know that there is promising practice already taking place and the case studies gathered from site visits showed key partnerships that have developed between sectors and the pioneering work of many front-line organisations who, despite the barriers, are working together to provide effective gendered support to women.

Read the full report and recommendations and support us in our work with others to change the landscape for women who are homeless facing multiple disadvantage by building one that is fit for purpose with women's voices at the core.