Called to action
Looking back now, I see that I was called to action in 2014 as a support worker working in an 80-bed mixed-sex homelessness hostel. New to the frontline, I was drawn to supporting women early in my career. Some of my colleagues felt women were too complex, challenging, or hard work, perhaps some even avoided supporting women at all. But I was not deterred and was keen to find out more.
I learnt quickly that the needs of the women I encountered differed from the needs of the men I supported. The women shared a common unity of lost motherhood, a tapestry interlocked with threads of domestic abuse, mental health, survival sex and exploitation enmeshed in trauma. I met women who had been accommodated with their perpetrators. Women victimised under the very roof that was supposed to keep them safe.
I fast became an advocate and champion of women’s needs. Over time, I began to offer safer living spaces for women in the clusters I was responsible for, and this is where my journey began.
The women I supported wore invisible armour for protection. Armed with her shield and sword, she kept people at bay whilst she endured alone on the battlefield.
The invisible armour was labelled as “non-compliance” or “breaches of licence”, resulting in warnings or eviction. But I saw her “non-compliance” as trauma responses.
Her armour provided safety from the history of trauma. Her shield acted as a barrier preventing others from getting too close to her, so they could not let her down again. Her sword was braced for battle against the relentless trauma she continued to endure.
Her experience of being in support was a negative one, which often ended in eviction. I asked myself ‘how can I change this?’.
Reflecting, I can see that my colleagues lacked the confidence to support women. Though I was not given any tools or training, intuition guided my practice. Perhaps as a trauma survivor, I could relate, and I approached her differently. I led by example, became a consistent and positive adult figure in her life. When she pushed me away, I did not run but I gave her time to retreat. In time I won her trust, and she lowered her shield.
Delivering for Women
Driven by my frontline experience, I progressed into roles where I could instigate change for women experiencing homelessness. I am thrilled to have been appointed at Homeless Link and this is where my journey continues.
What underpins my practice now? My understanding that gendered approaches are integral to delivering for women.
On Tuesday 29th June 2021, we will be hosting our 2nd Women’s Homelessness conference. You are invited to join the conversation as we unpack what Delivering for Women means and how we can do it. We will hear from women with lived experience, about what has worked for them and share good practice from our Ending Women’s Homelessness grants programme; understanding what it takes to create gender-informed service with practical examples from services leading the way.
Registration details for our conference can be found by following this link.
Ending women’s homelessness is a movement in the making, will you join us on this journey?