Women’s Refuges in the UK – reaching crisis point?

Over the last few days, national media in the UK has been reporting on the difficulties faced by women who wish to access a refuge to escape an abusive partner. Across England, many refuges have been forced to close due to funding cuts. One source reports that ‘In 2010 there were a total of 149 specialist services providing 187 refuge services throughout England. By July 2014 this had changed to 112 specialist services providing 155 refuge services (The Telegraph, 04/09/14). Another newspaper, the Guardian, published a lengthy piece on refuge provision in August this year – the article can be viewed here The implications of this potential crisis are obvious and it is an area that we will be addressing in our recommendations for service provision across the EU.

Spanish ‘From Street-to-Home’ Country Seminar – November 2014

The Spanish ‘From Street-to-Home’ Country Seminar was held on Thursday 6th November at the Universidad Pública de Navarra in Pamplona Spain. The seminar was attended by over 200 delegates and included a presentation from Project Director Professor Morag MacDonald. The event attracted local media attention and was successful in communicating the key messages of the ‘From Street-to-Home’ project. Click here to view the PowerPoint presentation delivered by our Spanish partners.

Daphne S2H: End of Project Seminar

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.

UK Country Seminar – June 2014

The UK ‘From Street-to-Home’ Country Seminar was held on Wednesday 14th May at the Midland Heart offices in Birmingham UK. The event was designed to present project progress to date, in particular the findings of the Midland Heart/Anawin evaluation. Click here to download the ‘Breaking the Cycle’ Summary report.

The event featured a range of speakers including project coordinator Morag MacDonald, who provided project background information to an invited audience comprising representatives from a range of housing and social care professions. Guest speaker was Vicky Pryce who generously agreed to deliver a keynote address in her capacity as the author of ‘Prisonomics’ and patron of Working Chance, a charity that finds quality jobs for ex-offenders. Vicky drew on her own experiences of imprisonment, which raised her awareness of the unfairness and inefficiency of the system and also the stigma surrounding offenders that can prevent them from gaining work on release and ultimately risk driving them back to offending. Vicky also recounted how she felt luckier than many of the women she met in prison as many did not have a home to return to and risked becoming homeless as a result.

After Vicky’s address, Joy Doal and Gail Walters gave a joint presentation relating to the genesis of the partnership between Anawim and Midland Heart and how they saw their initiative progressing to benefit women in need of safe and secure housing with accompanying social support. This was followed by a further joint presentation from Stephen Russell and Katherine Haynes from Midland Heart, who presented findings from the Cost Benefit Analysis conducted as part of the evaluation of the partnership. Stephen and Katherine demonstrated how the housing provision provided by Midland Heart together with the social support provided by Anawim can have a positive effect both in terms of social and economic value.
The event concluded with an opportunity for questions from the audience and networking. This proved to be a lively session with the majority of delegates eager to find out more about the project and forge collaborative links.

Project Partner Meeting, Bergen, Norway.

The second project partner meeting was held in Bergen, Norway on the 9th – 10th February 2014. The meeting was a great success with plenty of animated discussion and debate. Issues arising from partners’ initial literature reviews and interviews with women stakeholders displayed many commonalities including recognition that domestic violence and abuse, mental health problems (particularly depression) and a lack of safe and affordable housing are common factors.

The UK partners Gail Walters (Midland Heart) and Joy Doal (Anawim) identified that two overarching issues were beginning to emerge:

1.     Recognition that safe and secure housing is an essential component (using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to frame this argument);
2.     There is a lack of coordination and cooperation between service providers.

Gail argued that the starting point for services should be the individual and that services should take an holistic view of the needs of each individual making decisions about which aspect of the individual is most important and addressing this. Gail stressed that services should begin at the point the individual is at when they access the service and develop as a person progresses; e.g. there is little point addressing an individuals’ education or employment needs if they have nowhere to live. Gail made the point that women with complex and multiple needs often move on a continuum and that the partnership between the two organisations catered for women at the centre of such a continuum. Gail noted that the partner work to date had established that meeting housing need is essential, as is investment. She also noted that there appears to be an unmet need relating to women with disabilities as well as issues around cultural differences, ethnic groups and thresholds of what is acceptable. She noted that the questioning of cultural practices was beginning to happen and was evidenced by the growth in Asian Women’s Centres in the UK.

The work undertaken to date illustrated that there are issues surrounding mental health, particularly personality disorder (which is not recognized as mental illness in the UK). One of the fundamental issues is how to keep individuals suffering with personality disorder safe. Joy noted that there is currently a personality disorder initiative in the UK, which involves the establishment of Enabling Environments (EE) and Psychologically Informed Planned Environments (PIPES). This led to a discussion of the possibility of tapping in to health funding streams given that the cost benefit analysis indicates that savings can be made from health care budgets. It was noted that the central argument that the work to date demonstrates is that the safety and future of children has cost implications.  The provision of safe and secure housing, and subsequent family reunification, both benefits children and saves money: the cost benefit analysis (developed as part of the UK evaluation) will demonstrate this.

Gail noted that there now appears to be a much greater awareness and understanding among partners about the availability of social housing in their respective countries. She wondered if service providers in the partner countries had the same level of awareness and, if not, if this was causing problems for them. In particular, it is apparent that there is a problem with housing solutions for the marginalized and in some countries (e.g. the UK and Norway) bigger structural problems. A further problem identified is the lack of checks and controls that apply to private landlords.

Ultimately, however, the work undertaken to date indicates that there needs to be a focus on the needs of women with chaotic lifestyles and multiple needs.
Midland Heart and Anawim Evaluation

The date has been set for the UK partner dissemination event that will focus on the evaluation of Midland Heart and Anawim informal partnership. The key finding from the evaluation is that: the informal partnership between Anawim and Midland Heart is both highly successful and cost effective. The following quotes, one from a women housed by Midland Heart and supported by Anawim and the second from a worker at Anawim demonstrate this success.

The final report of the evaluation will be available on the website after the dissemination event.