Project partners convened in Bergamo, Italy in late October 2014 to present findings of the project at the FEANTSA 2014 Policy Conference. The conference, entitled ‘CONFRONTING HOMELESSNESS IN THE EU: SEEKING OUT THE NEXT GENERATION OF BEST PRACTICES’ had been specifically selected as an appropriate event to disseminate findings as it provided ‘an opportunity for 450 practitioners from across Europe to exchange information on relevant policy and practice to prevent and reduce homelessness’.
The conference had the following objectives:
1. To support policy and practice in the field of homelessness, by driving innovation and seeking out the next generation of best practices.
2. To contribute to the implementation of the Europe2020 Strategy, and namely the EU Social Investment Package adopted by the European Commission in February 2013. One of the key priorities of the package is to “confront homelessness”.
3. To provide space to test new ways of pooling expertise and building networks (see: FEANTSA).
The conference had a wide and varied programme that included plenary sessions and workshop sessions. The workshop sessions included presentations from 2-3 keynote speakers, followed by space for group discussions looking both backward to successful best practices but also forward by reflecting on approaches needed in the future. Of particular interest to our project was a workshop addressing women’s homelessness in Europe entitled ‘The dynamics of women’s homelessness: are different responses needed at service level? Notes from this session revealed that:
The evidence base for the differences for women is less well developed
Much homelessness research focuses on street homelessness where women are less visible
Women tend not to go to services
Fear of violence and gong into very male dominated places are significant factors
Women’s homelessness is not recorded in most countries or broken down by gender
Family homelessness which is recorded is usually women with children alone
Although women’s experiences of homelessness are often repeated, and they have high support needs, they are still largely invisible as they tend to stay with family, friends or relatives.
The morning of 25 October was dedicated to fostering new dynamics and projects through 10+ Networking Hotspots. These included visits to local projects in Bergamo, information sessions about EU projects/developments, meetings of various FEANTSA partners (HABITACT, Ministries Forum, HOPE, etc), roundtables of experts, and some creative spaces. The Daphne Street-to-Home project was presented at one of these hotspots.
The session shared details of the UK dissemination event, particularly how the experiences of an economist from a privileged background who had spent some time in prison and experienced the difficulties faced by women with complex needs, recognised why prison is not the right place to rehabilitate. Upon release, she looked in greater detail at what was needed and at the waste, in economic terms, of keeping women with complex needs in a system which doesn’t work.
This provided a good analogy of what a good evaluation is like:
identify the problem
why it isn’t working
look for a solution
find a way to pay for it
It also characterises the intervention that was evaluated in the UK leg of the project, which investigated a partnership between a social housing provider, Midland Heart and a women’s centre, Anawim. The idea behind the alliance was to bring two needs together to form a win/ win situation. A cost benefit analysis of the partnership, which formed a central part of the session, has provided evidence of cost savings that will, hopefully, ensure the sustainability of the partnership in the long term.
The session also enabled partners to highlight the differences in provision of accommodation for women with complex needs that exist in each individual country and the initiatives, or lack of initiatives in some cases, that have been devised to tackle the problem. The session was well received by delegates and had to be repeated as a further set of delegates were also interested to hear more about the project.
Members of the project team also attended a round table of experts convened to examine higher education partnerships to tackle homelessness (targeting higher education institutions). This proved to be a lively session, which resulted in a number of partners expressing a desire to work together on potential projects and networks.
Our thanks must go to the organisers of the event for extending an invitation to participate and to the people of the beautiful city of Bergamo who made us feel most welcome.