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Ending Women’s Homelessness Fund: Case Study Review

Our review captures the journey of seven grantees supporting women through the new COVID-19 landscape.

The Ending Women’s Homelessness Fund (EWHF) funds 29 cross-sector partnerships between women’s specialist services and homelessness services. The core aim of this programme is to improve gender and trauma informed support for women experiencing homelessness with multiple disadvantage, as too often women with high needs were falling through the gaps in provision.

In March – and almost overnight – EWHF grantees were plunged into uncertainty as lockdown was announced and a new COVID19 order was imposed. They quickly set about adapting their services and grappling with major challenges of staffing, funding uncertainty, rising demand for services and access to digital in order to continue providing vital support for women experiencing homelessness.

Today we publish our case study report exploring the journey of seven of our grantees through the new COVID-19 landscape, the impact it has had on women and services, and how local emergency responses on the whole failed to provide a gendered response for women.

The seven interviewees represent a cross section of the programme:

  • A Way Out: An outreach service supporting women engaged in on street sex work
  • Encompass SW, MIND in Somerset and North Devon Against Domestic Abuse (NDADA): A collaboration between a homelessness sector, a women’s sector and a mental health provider to provide a coherent package of support to women experiencing multiple support needs.
  • Micro Rainbow: A specialist provider of accommodation and support to LBTI refugees
  • Simon on the Streets: A women’s street outreach service
  • Standing Together Against Domestic Violence and St Mungo’s: A collaboration between a women’s sector and homelessness support organisation to develop much needed training and tools to support women’s safety
  • Sunflower Women’s Centre (Trevi House): A trauma-informed women’s centre for women and their children
  • Wearside Women in Need: A residential recovery unit for women with complex needs

Key case study themes in summary:

Local emergency responses

On the whole there was a lack of consideration of women’s needs in local emergency COVID-19 planning. There was very little additional women-only accommodation and many refuges were in lockdown, reducing options further. Despite this, grantees worked hard to advocate for women’s needs locally, joining COVID-19 task forces, working with local partners to coordinate support, immigration support and accommodation for women experiencing homelessness, as well as training COVID emergency hotel staff on women’s safety. Only two areas had opened women-only emergency accommodation within the first three months of lockdown, but with strong advocacy a number of other areas had either opened a women-only space or worked with mixed hotels to develop protocols and women’s safe spaces by the  six-month point.

One example highlighted in this report is of EWHF grantee Simon on the Streets in Leeds, who were integral to the set-up of one of only two women-only emergency hotels in England, working in partnership with Leeds City Council and other providers as part of the Women’s Lives Leeds partnership.

Impact on women

Grantees told us about the huge mental health toll lockdown has had on women experiencing homelessness, with higher incidences of anxiety, self-harm and suicide attempts reported. Many areas saw a reduction in the availability of mental health support, with services moving to remote operation or reducing support altogether. There were also real concerns for women’s safety and access to support, with a rise in reports of domestic abuse and sexual exploitation and fears for women who were isolating with an abuser not being able to access support due to the constant presence of the perpetrator. There was also an increase in the numbers of women who had been sofa surfing or in hidden homeless situations coming forward, and this provided an opportunity to support women who had previously not been known to services.

A gendered approach

Due to the pressure of providing accommodation and services for so many people so quickly during lockdown, there was a view that having to think about women as well as everything else, gave the impression that being a woman was an extra consideration. This was as opposed to embracing that men and women have different needs and are exposed to different risks due to gender, and thus underpinning planning and decision-making on gender specific emergency provision. What we have learnt from the EWHF grantees further demonstrates that gender specific services and policies work for women, and that strong partnership approaches, formally or informally, when tailored to women’s needs, are successful in the most difficult circumstances.

Channel website: http://www.homelesslink.org.uk

Original article link: https://www.homeless.org.uk/connect/blogs/2020/sep/25/ending-women%E2%80%99s-homelessness-fund-case-study-review

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