Solving the Crisis in Young Women’s Housing

Monday, 25 November 2019 - 1:52pm

Esther Sample, Research and Evaluation Manager from Young Women’s Trust tells us about the work they've been doing with young women facing homelessness.

Last month Young Women’s Trust (YWT) held an event on ‘Solving the Crisis in young women’s housing’. The event brought together housing and homelessness professionals to share learning on young women’s experiences of homelessness and insecure housing. This included research from YWT and Southampton University report, Churchill Fellowship research, and young women’s own accounts of their experiences of the homelessness and housing system.

Young women facing homelessness are unable to access specialist supported accommodation in most parts of the UK. Only 11% of homelessness services are women only, and there are even less specifically for young women. Because of a lack of funding, women’s refuges are forced to turn women away every day.

Under current welfare reforms, people under 35 can only claim housing benefit for a room in a shared house. Young women and girls’ experiences of homelessness are often tied up with experiences of mental ill health, and episodes of violence. For many young women, sharing mixed private accommodation with strangers of different ages can be unsafe and re-traumatising.

The event was co-produced with Young Women Advisory Panel Members, who presented their experiences of housing insecurity and homelessness and facilitated table discussions to discuss the solutions. Their stories highlighted the challenges young women face in navigating a housing system that is not responsive to their needs, how this can trap them in a cycle of homelessness and the impact this can have on their safety, health and families. They also shared their experiences of supported accommodation and highlighted the importance of this form of accommodation. Ashleigh agreed that we could share her story:

One of my most positive housing experiences was being in supported housing when I was 19-20. It was a Foyer where I had a self-contained studio flat, support workers and everything I needed under one roof. There was a computer room and I could get support with things like my CV and financial management.

My housing story after that has not been so good. I moved into council accommodation when I had my son, but I experienced hate crime, rent arrears built up and I was evicted. When I went to the council they said I was intentionally homeless and they didn’t have a duty to house me in another council property so I had to find a deposit and private rented accommodation.

The only house I could find which would take benefits had a dodgy letting agent who were not passing on my rent to the landlady. She came around asking for £6,000 and said I was 4 months in arrears. When I went to the letting agent to find out what happened the shop was boarded up and they were gone.

When I approached the local authority they said I was intentionally homeless again and I had to pay another deposit for private rented. It was such a stressful time, I’d just had my daughter and my mental health was badly affected. I ended up being sectioned and when I was discharged I was homeless again, in the same situation with the council, and I could find no landlords that took benefits applicants in London.

I ended up finding a house in Yorkshire for me and my children where I still live as this was all that was affordable. Being far from my support networks was stressful at first, my anxiety was really high and I would just drop the children and school and go to the shops and not speak to anyone.

Things have started to get better now and I feel more settled. My mum moved up in January and that has really helped and I have started to socialise with the other mums, and build myself and my family back up.

Lots of young women have to leave home and finish school but are not prepared to live on their own or in shared accommodation with strangers where they can face harassment. Supported housing really helped me and I know others from back then who have done well. I’m also still in touch with some of the support workers. Funding has been cut for supported housing, there has to be more investment in supported housing for young women.

Esther Sample, Research and Evaluation Manager from Young Women’s Trust will be delivering a workshop at our Young & Homeless Conference on Preventing and addressing young women’s homelessness to share more learning and recommendations on this topic. The conference takes place on 6 December, you can get your tickets to the conference here