The Women’s Development Unit

The Women’s Development Unit

The Women’s Development Unit (WDU) was a two-year partnership between The Connection at St Martin’s and Solace Women’s Aid, running from February 2021 to March 2023. The WDU worked to bring strategic attention to women’s homelessness and rough sleeping, advocating for change to ensure services can meet the needs and risks that are a day-to-day reality for women experiencing homelessness in London.

While sleeping rough is a devastating experience for all, women can face additional dangers and vulnerabilities. There is a very well-established link between violence against women and girls (VAWG) and homelessness, and almost all women sleeping rough have experienced gendered violence in their lives. However, homelessness among women has received less attention from policy makers, the media, and in some cases service providers, resulting in a gap between women’s needs and existing service provision.

The Unit’s objectives included:

  • Bringing strategic attention to women’s homelessness by building evidence and advocating for change at a policy and practice level. We worked alongside experts in the field to make the case for better understanding, better data, and better funding for women experiencing homelessness and multiple disadvantage.
  • Supporting services by developing best practice resources with the combined expertise of the Unit, experts across the women’s and homelessness sectors and women with lived experience of homelessness.

Our Work

Strategy for Ending Women’s Homelessness in London

In March 2022, we launched a Strategy for Ending Women’s Homelessness in London click here and accompanying Evidence Report click here along with the guidance here. They include practical recommendations, an evidence base and brief guidance for a range of stakeholders, from policy makers and commissioners to service providers and practitioners.

We developed this strategy through engaging with a range of stakeholders to gain an in-depth understanding of the gaps in support for women experiencing homelessness. The Unit was gratefully supported by a strategic advisory group with representatives from homelessness and VAWG organisations, local authorities, London Councils, the Greater London Authority (GLA), the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) and MHCLG (now DLUHC), and a consultant expert by experience.

In our second year, we advocated for implementation of the strategy recommendations, particularly around collecting better data on women’s homelessness, supporting new and renewing strategies to become gender informed and raising awareness on women’s homelessness.

Best Practice

The Unit provided training, advice and support regarding service development and delivery, supporting organisations to increase the gender-responsiveness of their services and increasing their capacity to meet the needs of women experiencing homelessness and multiple disadvantage.

We delivered and coordinated training to over 300 London-based practitioners, supporting them to identify and understand the needs of women in their services and provide gender and trauma informed support.

In 2021, the Unit consulted with experts by experience and practitioners across the homelessness and women’s specialist sectors to establish best practice principles around developing women’s spaces within homelessness services, a key service need is ensuring women feel safe accessing services.

In January 2022, we produced guidance for establishing Women’s Spaces within Homelessness Settings read more here.

London Women’s Rough Sleeping Census

Working closely with partners and the Life Off the Streets Ending and Preventing Women’s Rough Sleeping Sub-group, in October 2022 we co-delivered a London Women’s Rough Sleeping Census read more here to collect more comprehensive data on women experiencing homelessness and trial a different method of data collection. The resulting report by researchers Praxis Collab, Making Women Count, was published in 2023 and sets out key findings and recommendations.

Gender Informed Audit Toolkit

We are currently creating a gender-informed self-assessment toolkit for homelessness organisations. The toolkit will detail the specifics of what a gender-informed approach looks like in practice, setting out clear expectations of what it means to be gender-informed and responsive to the needs of women in services. It will also enable services to review existing provision and identify their unique gaps and learning needs and will include suggestions for how to address those identified.

The Unit’s achievements

  • Delivered training to over 300 practitioners
  • Hosted workshops with over 60 women with lived experience
  • Hosted workshops and focus groups with over 109 practitioners
  • Produced 4 publications – our strategy and evidence report, and two pieces of best practice guidance
  • Co-delivered the first London Women’s Rough Sleeping Census
  • Provided evidence to government consultations, and directly quoted in several reports, including the London Housing Committee report ‘Women and Housing: a gap in the market’ and APPG for Ending Homelessness report ‘Is the Westminster Government on track to meet its manifesto commitment to “end the blight of rough sleeping” in England by the end of this Parliament?’
  • Engaged with several London Assembly Members and MPs, including members of the London Housing Committee and APPG for Ending Homelessness.  the London Deputy Mayor of Housing and Residential Development and the Co-chair of the APPG for Ending Homelessness.

Proud to be a part of several collaborative networks, working with experts and change-makers across London, including the Life Off The Streets Women’s sub-group, Westminster’s Changing Futures VAWG Network and the Women’s Homelessness Action Forum

Contact us about our ongoing work on women’s homelessness

Eleanor Greenhalgh – Women’s Rough Sleeping Policy Manager

Rebecca Goshawk – Head of Partnerships and Public Affairs

Diane Smith – Head of Recovery at The Connection at St Martin’s

Read the Housing First Year 3 Evaluation