Housing First - a solution for women experiencing multiple disadvantage?
A variety of Housing First models are successfully supporting a range of client groups with some of the most complex needs.
“It’s fair to say, that she has been there more for me in the past four months than my mum has in my entire life... She is just somebody who has supported me like my own family should have done really.”
This was a quote from a service-user shared recently in a powerful webinar about Housing First for women in Greater Manchester. Threshold’s Amanda Bloxsome, who oversees their gender-informed provision, delivered the webinar with Linda Smith, a peer mentor who volunteers to support those accessing the service.
You will be able to find out more about Threshold’s approach and other Housing First services tailored to support specific cohorts including young people at our inaugural Housing First conference in February.
“From early on, I had problems - made worse by an unstable home environment. By 15, I was regularly using drugs and alcohol, which was great for me because I could be anyone I wanted to be, so long as I wasn’t me. By this time, I already hated living in my own skin… I was so young but I’d already been subjected to sexual abuse and teenage grooming. I left home at 15 and stayed with friends, sofa surfing, much like our women on the Housing First project.” (Linda)
The experiences of women being supported by Threshold who have histories of offending, echo the findings of a report published by Agenda last year. They found that women are twice as likely to experience interpersonal violence and abuse as men are and that more extensive violence is more likely to be experienced by women. Sadly, women with substantial abuse histories go on to experience disadvantage in many other areas of their lives. The report calls for the commissioning of gender-specific services to be prioritised.
“Women-specific services are making a difference to the lives of women... In my own experience, it’s much easier to discuss issues like sex work, sexual violence or domestic abuse with a female worker or peer mentor. This is one of the only times that they begin to feel safe and have a sense of control over their own life….Women have a right to a care package that is sensitive to female presenting issues.” (Linda).
A literature review of what is needed to provide effective gender-sensitive services for those experiencing multiple disadvantage, found that women highly value the quality of relationships and that the most successful services worked from a strengths-based empowerment model. In addition, the review found that effective services were holistic, person-centred and worked to prioritise physical and then emotional safety. Housing First services underpinned by a set of key principles offer just this. Threshold is a clear example.
“When I was supported by my worker she was really skilled. She helped me to access safer housing and engage with other specialist services. I guess it was her person-centred, non-judgemental approach, which enabled me to grow over time and eventually develop further… she would always encourage me with the things I had done well at a time when I didn’t think I had any skills. She made me feel I had strength when I felt I had nothing at all… she really helped with my self-esteem.
“(And on Housing First) This service is unique, I can’t stress that enough. Smaller caseloads allow us to provide the flexibility, consistency and pro-activeness to help the women engage”. (Linda)
Threshold’s service for women is being evaluated by the University of York. In their interim report, they explain that ‘women who have had multiple, hugely traumatic experiences over sustained periods of time, who have run into difficulties with and been let down by mainstream services…, whose lives seem to have been characterised by both violence and an instability which for some must have seemed like chaos, have been successfully supported. There is evidence here of strengthening self-esteem, improvements in health and well-being and growing ambition, moving way beyond the goals of older and more orthodox homelessness services’.
The University is also supporting Threshold to develop a toolkit about their approach, which will be publicly available soon.
To learn more about Threshold’s approach, as well as issues such as how to embed Housing First within a coordinated system, please join us at our Housing First conference - tickets are on sale now, so be sure not to miss out.
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