Homeless services and policies not meeting needs of abused women – report

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Women experiencing domestic violence should be given more help to stay in their homes if they wish to do so while their abuser is moved away to prevent them being driven into homelessness, experts have said.

There is a strong link between violence and women becoming homeless which is often not talked about, according to the Centre for Homelessness Impact (CHI) and Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research (CRESR).

The groups’ report – Women, homelessness and violence: what works? – says there are not enough housing and support services specifically for women.

Current approaches are “often neglecting women with historic experience of violence” and do little to support women to deal with the trauma that may have led to them becoming homeless, it says.

One example is the Making Safe initiative in England, where victims are helped to stay in their home and perpetrators moved away and rehoused for up to two years.

The report says: “If found to be effective, such a sea change in how the needs of women at risk of violence are met could radically improve many women’s lives and futures whilst contributing to broader efforts to prevent homelessness in the UK.”

Dr Kesia Reeve, principal research fellow at CRESR, said: “It’s wrong that the woman experiencing violence rather than the perpetrator of the violence is usually the one who has to leave the home, and is therefore at increased risk of becoming homeless.

“It’s also important to support women who have suffered historic experiences of violence, as well as those escaping it immediately.

“There’s currently not enough understanding of the needs associated with the trauma suffered by women in these situations.”

CHI chief executive Dr Ligia Teixeira said: “There is a strong link between violence and homelessness amongst women, yet this is often not talked about.

“It is important that both policy and practice improve where these fall short in meeting the needs of women, including the needs of those with historic experiences of violence who are still living with its consequences.”

One in five women who experience extensive violence become homeless, compared to 1% of those who have experienced little violence and abuse, according to previous analysis of data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS).

The groups believe that the full significance of violence will often be missed as a reason for a woman becoming homeless, with services focusing on behaviours such as drug or alcohol misuse – which can be responses to trauma.

They are calling for more women-only temporary accommodation made available.

They said that some survivors are being given mixed-sex accommodation, which can retraumatise them, with some women opting to sleep rough if they cannot access single-sex housing.

Clara, one of 14 women who provided testimony for the report, ended up on the street as she felt this was safer than staying in the temporary accommodation the council had allocated her.

She said: “I had a series of violent relationships which meant I lost my flat and everything got on top of me, so I ended up homeless.

“At first, they put me in a bed and breakfast, but it was really unsafe and I was the only female.

“There were always lots of men who were drunk and really loud; it was really scary. So, I started living rough on and off, staying with friends when I could.”

Another woman, Ash, said: “For many women who are traumatised, like myself, sharing accommodation with males is just not an option.

“It leads to feeling chronically unsafe which can have harmful repercussions.

“Many homelessness services don’t seem to understand these consequences and problems with mixed-sex accommodation.”

A Government spokesman said: “Domestic abuse is a heinous crime and we are ensuring victims receive the support they need.

“We have changed the law so victims at risk of being homeless must be given priority accommodation by their council. We’re also ensuring councils provide specialist support, so those who leave their home to escape abuse have somewhere safe to go and we’re backing this with £125 million funding.

“This is alongside a pioneering £3.7 million Respite Room trial, providing safe housing and support for victims at risk of sleeping rough.”

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