When a person is released from prison, we often don’t give their quality of life much thought. Instead we focus on the details of the crimes they have committed or talk about the amount of taxpayers money it cost to keep them inside. So what happens next?
There is a clear link between offenders and homelessness. Often people will lose accommodation when they enter custody as relationships break down and rent payments can falter. On release they can struggle to find accommodation with a private landlord or to receive the housing Universal Credit in time for release. If someone leaving prison does visit their council to apply for housing, they are likely to be turned away and not classed as a ‘priority need’.
Women are particularly vulnerable with 1 in 5 female prisoners homeless after release, leaving them open to sexual exploitation, domestic violence, drugs, alcohol and mental-health issues. Recidivism to further criminality is also a possibility, needlessly putting members of the public at risk to harm instead of focusing on rehabilitation and reintegration into the community. There is currently a huge lack of female supported accommodation bed spaces in London and a clear need to address this to prevent further harm.
Solace are proud to be working with Southwark Council, a trailblazing authority in homelessness prevention that has an excellent record of creating proactive, preventative and bespoke services for those vulnerable to becoming homeless.
Earlier this year, the council received £78,750 in funding from the Government’s Rough Sleepers Initiative for a new service which assists women leaving prison, providing funding for two years. Solace were appointed to lead as experts in this field of work, and we are delighted to report the service is now operational.
The service is specifically targeted at women who are sleeping rough on the streets in Southwark and provides intensive, wrap-around support to women leaving the prison system who are rough sleepers with multiple support needs. It brings women on a journey from homelessness to finding temporary accommodation who are then supported into long term accommodation. This dedicated specialist service is helping provide a fresh start and a successful transition from prison back into the community.
A 28 year old who has already benefitted from the service explains: “I was released from Bronzefield prison for the fifth time this year, in November. This time I was collected from the prison and taken straight to housing options where I met the Solace Worker. She had already organised a room in a women-only flat nearby which I moved into straight away. It had bedding and she had a bag of clothing for me with toiletries and a food bank voucher, it was around the corner from my Probation Officer, the women’s hub, my drug service and the housing office. She arranged for my Probation Officer to come and see me on the day I was released and for my methadone prescription to be ready at the new pharmacy that day. This week she is helping me to open my first bank account so that I can finally claim benefits.”
Gill Herd, Senior Manager, Partnerships for Solace Women’s Aid says: “Solace is proud to be working in partnership with Southwark Council’s housing solutions service to provide a coordinated and effective response to women fleeing domestic abuse and other forms of violence in the borough. We are very excited to launch our new service for women leaving prison. This group of women are often the most marginalised and vulnerable, at risk of street homelessness and sexual exploitation. This is an excellent example of how Rough Sleeping Initiative funds can be used to meet the very specific, and often more hidden, needs of women.”
Councillor Stephanie Cryan, cabinet member for housing management and modernisation, said: “I am so proud that we have such an amazing team of experts working for us to help and support women who have had it really tough. I am humbled that we can have this kind of impact on those who have been through so much and who just need a bit of help make their lives much better. I wish all the women who come through this service all the very best for their futures.”
We can see that this approach is working and we call on more boroughs with funds under the rough sleepers initiative to consider running similar projects. Together we can create stronger, safer futures for women in London.