The All Party Parliamentary Group on Ending Homelessness Co-Chaired by Bob Blackman MP and Neil Coyle MP has recently concluded its inquiry into Housing First schemes. Based on our innovative work on two Housing First schemes in London, we submitted a written response to highlight the specific needs of women rough sleeping, who have a near universal experience of violence against women and girls (VAWG).
Key points and recommendations:
- Include Housing First schemes in local, regional and national strategies to end homelessness and to end VAWG - Experience of domestic abuse and violence is near universal among street homeless women. Housing First works well for street homeless women when linked to VAWG services, with a strong engagement rate from a population that usually struggles to maintain engagement with services. Housing First schemes for women should be part of local, regional and national strategies to end homelessness and to end violence against women and girls (joined up). Housing First schemes for women should always include specialist support provided by organisations with expertise in VAWG.
- Collect better data on homeless women - Street homeless women are far less visible than street homeless men because they are at greater risk of violence, exploitation and abuse. The Government’s ongoing ‘Everyone In’ scheme should collect sex disaggregated data to get a more accurate picture of the real numbers of women sleeping rough or at risk of sleeping rough. The numbers are still likely to be lower than the number of men, as women are more likely to head up single families in temporary accommodation and turn to informal temporary accommodation like sofa surfing. But until they are accurately counted, we won’t know the true number.
- Ensure sustainable and long-term funding to allow ongoing support for those in Housing First schemes for women - Housing First schemes are premised on the ongoing support provided by caseworkers. There should be no limit on how long clients will have access to support, in recognition that people who have experienced street homelessness have usually experienced multiple and repeated trauma and need long-term continuous support to recover. Through one HF scheme each in Islington and Westminster we are already supporting around half of the known number of rough sleeping women in each borough, so while these number are underestimates, sustainable funding for Housing First schemes for women would make a significant impact on the Government’s target of ending rough sleeping for this cohort.
- Implement strategies which mitigate the impact perpetrators have on women in the Housing First scheme’s recovery - A barrier that is particular to homeless women’s successful engagement and long-term recovery is the steps perpetrators of violence and abuse often take to sabotage women’s recovery. There have been at least two cases of attempted murder with women we work with and the police did not bring charges without a victim statement. The Government should develop a national perpetrator strategy alongside its cross-Government VAWG strategy, with specific provisions for perpetrators who are homeless. Effective measures include Housing First schemes for women working with general Housing First and other support services to coordinate support provided for perpetrators and survivors of VAWG where both are homeless, an approach we have taken that has begun to work well for some of our clients.
- Build partnerships with housing associations to support the scale up of Housing First - Partnerships with housing associations in our Westminster scheme have been effective in increasing the pace and capacity of the scheme, and the role of caseworkers in Housing First incentivises housing providers to be partners. Any scaling up of Housing First schemes should be done in partnership with housing associations.
- Increase supply of social housing and work in partnership with private landlords - Of the 1.16 million households on local authorities’ housing waiting lists (estimated to be 500,000 higher by the National Housing Federation), 21% are in London. Given the lack of social housing supply in England, and especially London the Government should increase social housing supply. In the shorter-term, the Government should seek national or regional partnerships with private landlords and look into partnering with social letting agencies.
- Allow Housing First clients to qualify for legacy housing benefits - Applying for Universal Credit is overly bureaucratic and the five-week wait and punitive sanctions framework are barriers to recovery for some of the most vulnerable and traumatised women in the country, who can end up in rent arrears and be back on the streets without intensive support and advocacy with their landlords. Refuge residents and those in other supported housing models are able to apply for the legacy housing benefit. Housing First clients should qualify for the same exemptions and be given the right to housing benefit as opposed to Universal Credit.
- Amend the Domestic Abuse Bill to ensure those with NRPF are covered by the new duty in the Bill - Women with no recourse to public funds (NRPF) are ineligible for Housing First schemes, but are particularly vulnerable to VAWG and to having their immigration status exploited by abusers. The Government should accept amendments to the Domestic Abuse Bill to extend the duty on local authorities to provide safe accommodation for survivors of domestic abuse to migrant women and their children.
- Encourage joint working between health outreach and Housing First schemes - Women sleeping rough report higher rates of poor mental health than men, and live with the fear and reality of sexual violence and physical abuse. Health services are vital for meeting their mental health needs and treating their injuries, but can additionally play an important role identifying abuse and supporting women to disclose abuse and seek help. NHS trusts should work with local authorities to coordinate healthcare outreach support with Housing First caseworkers to locate and treat women sleeping rough.
If you’re interested in our work with women who have experienced street homelessness and other forms of multiple disadvantage contact Erin Mansell, Public Affairs Manager: [email protected]