Following royal assent in April 2021 the landmark Domestic Abuse Act is set to provide protection to millions of people experiencing domestic abuse, as well as strengthen measures to address perpetrators. The government announced £19m of additional funding to tackle domestic abuse in England and Wales, including £3.7m for safe accommodation to support women experiencing homelessness in the form of a Respite Room. This programme was first announced by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak during the March 2021 Budget.
What are Respite Rooms?
Respite Rooms will provide safe accommodation with specialist support in single gender spaces, for women at risk of rough sleeping who are experiencing domestic abuse and multiple disadvantage. Expert advice and support will be offered from homelessness and Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG) charities to support women to access safe, suitable and more permanent accommodation thereafter. This idea is based on St Mungo’s Green Room, which provides emergency accommodation for female rough sleepers who are at risk of, or have historically experienced, violence.
Why are they needed?
On the 26th July 2021, the Minister for Housing and Rough Sleeping Eddie Hughes announced the twelve local areas across England receiving funding through this pioneering pilot. Eddie Hughes outlined the significance of the Respite Rooms programme:
“Survivors of domestic abuse, sexual violence or physical violence need a safe place of refuge to escape these crimes and rebuild their lives.
These respite rooms will provide a safe space and ensure vulnerable people at risk of sleeping rough are supported in safe housing with expert advice and counselling.
This programme is part of the government’s much wider action to help the most vulnerable in our communities, with £750 million investment this year to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping”.
It is estimated that the programme will support 1,100 survivors during the twelve-month trial. Pilot areas include Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, Birmingham, Bristol, Camden, Hastings and East Sussex, Exeter, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Portsmouth and Westminster.
As the collective voice of the homelessness sector in England, with over 800 members, we at Homeless Link strive to give voice to our members experience and expertise. We caught up with one member, and Ending Women’s Homelessness Fund grantee, Basis Yorkshire to tell us what this funding means to them:
“Basis Yorkshire are thrilled to hear of the introduction of Respite Rooms, and any scheme that widens the safety net for women with intensive support needs who so often find themselves excluded from mainstream refuge and emergency accommodation”.
“We hope that in designing the scheme the Government have accounted for women’s different
patterns of homelessness beyond just rough sleeping, and the intense trauma that women so often carry with them. Moreover, sex work in isolation doesn’t place women at risk of rough sleeping, but rather it is stigma towards sex workers and male violence against women which poses a risk”.
“In Leeds, we have seen the difference that single-gender bed spaces can make to a woman experiencing homelessness but urge that this needs to be provided alongside holistic, trauma-informed support free from stigma or discrimination”.
“We are conscious that a women’s journey towards recovery rarely ends when she leaves emergency accommodation, and that for positive change to be sustained, secure housing needs to be available long-term. We advocate for the broadening of Housing First across the country to ensure women are able to move forwards without needing to worry about repeating homelessness in the future”.
Delivering For Women
Funding safe accommodation in single gender spaces for women experiencing rough sleeping and domestic abuse is welcomed and a step in the right direction as we emerge from lockdown. The pandemic exacerbated the needs of women with multiple disadvantage experiencing homelessness, with reports of domestic abuse increasing amongst this vulnerable cohort. Findings from the Kerslake Commission highlights how women’s needs were unmet during the COVID-19 emergency response.
Respite Rooms have the potential to stop women falling through the cracks, bridging the gap in provision between the homelessness and VAWG sectors. We will be following the journey of one pilot area to see how this works in practice.