The Ending Women’s Homelessness Fund (EWHF), delivered by Homeless Link, funded 29 grantees in 2020 and 2021 to develop and enhance service provision for women experiencing homelessness and multiple disadvantage. Taking place during the pandemic, the Fund provided a valuable opportunity to enhance cross-sector working and galvanise a national network of practitioners and services working to end women’s homelessness across the country.
Our research, published today, documents some of the key insights and impacts of the Fund, demonstrating how organisations delivered a range of initiatives to enhance support for women. Through these experiences, we have curated a range of recommendations for policy makers, funders and commissioners and frontline services to work to reduce women’s homelessness.
Improved partnership and cross-sector working supported engagement with women and enabled support to be tailored to women’s specific circumstances. Partnerships between women’s organisations, homelessness services and other partners helped to ensure that support was coordinated through a trusted single point of contact and that women could access specialist provision alongside gender informed housing support.
As one woman accessing support said:
“The way the place is really good especially for someone like me with complex needs because I’ve come from addiction and domestic violence and mental health. It’s helping all of that in one go.”
Enhancing knowledge, influencing and capacity building
Specialist training about women’s experiences of violence and multiple disadvantage and how to work with women from a trauma-informed approach helped to upskill practitioners from different sectors, and build capacity and knowledge within teams to better support women with their experiences. Other grantees worked to influence decision makers and key stakeholders in local systems advocating for more women focussed provision and encouraging the commissioning of support and services that delivers for women.
Increased provision for women
Many women who experience homelessness have experienced domestic abuse and/or other forms of male violence, meaning male dominated environments can be intimidating and unsafe for women. In recognition that mixed services are often not appropriate for women, some grantees worked with women’s organisations to provide women-only time and space within services, develop referral pathways into specialist women specific services and create women’s support lead roles in the staff teams.
Often women report feeling more comfortable in female only spaces while many services in this research found that creating women only spaces led to more women coming forward to access support.
Outcomes for women
Women involved in this research described how the support they had received had enabled them to access safe and appropriate housing options as well as receive a range of practical and emotional support with their wider circumstances:
“I have a roof over my head and for the first time in more than three years, I have a place to call home.” (Woman accessing support)
In addition, others reported improved feelings of safety, wellbeing, confidence and hope for the future as a result of engaging with the options available to them through the EWHF and some had been able to resume contact with children no longer in their care:
“I am very confident now. Before I was ashamed and shy to talk. Now I can speak up.” (Woman accessing support).
Principles of a gender informed approach
This research demonstrates examples of support for women that could make a huge difference to women who are experiencing homelessness and multiple disadvantage. The work of the grantees highlights some key principles that underpin gender and trauma-informed approaches that other services can draw upon in their work to deliver for women.
- An organisational commitment to understanding women’s lived experience of gender inequality and multiple disadvantage requires buy-in from all levels of the organisation including the board and trustees as well as inclusion in strategic organisational plans.
- Effective support for women means tailoring it to their specific circumstances and experiences, taking services to where women are and allowing time to build trust with a worker who can coordinate their support.
- Delivering women-only spaces and specialist women centred support helps those who have experienced violence and trauma to feel safer and gives them a chance to regain control over their circumstances.
- Incorporating learning from women with lived experience through co-production activities ensures that women’s realities are centred in how support is delivered.
Legacy and galvanising support for the future
The achievements of the grantees and the Fund overall are extremely commendable, particularly in such difficult times and there is a strong will amongst the grantees to continue what has been started. It is hoped that the Fund will have a lasting impact in supporting women appropriately beyond the life of the fund and some have already secured funding to continue or extend their provision. Vitally, the Fund has also galvanised a national network of advocates for women which provides the foundation of a powerful collective voice to champion effective support for women experiencing homelessness and multiple disadvantage and call for local and national policy change to end women’s homelessness.
But while there are so many successes and achievements of the fund, the research highlighted that these were often made against the odds. Operating in a drastically under-resourced landscape in a system that fails to recognise and adequately respond to women’s experiences of violence and trauma, there is a long way to go until women-specific support and trauma-informed working becomes the norm for women who experience homelessness and multiple disadvantage. Nonetheless, the achievements of the grantees and the Fund over this period are no small feat. They provide an illustration of what can be done when a cross-sector of women’s organisations, homelessness services and partners come together to listen to women and to design and deliver interventions that are women focussed rather than operating in silos with rigidity that doesn't enable services to effectively engage women in a way that works best for them.
A call to action from Homeless Link
Driving this learning forward, our Women’s Homelessness Project funded by the Garfield Weston Foundation seeks to build capacity around gender informed approaches amongst providers of mixed sex accommodation with the development of a gender informed toolkit. Today we announce a call to action for providers of mixed-sex accommodation to submit an expression of interest to become one of our six pilot sites. Our Ending Women’s Homelessness Lead will work intensively with the pilot sites over a six-month period commencing in January 2022.
Are you a provider who would like to improve the support available to women experiencing homelessness within your service? Or are you interested in embedding gender-informed practice within your current offer? If so, we would love to hear from you! Get in touch with Michaela Campbell or Twitter M_Homelesslink for more information.