An opportunity to think again: Women’s homelessness after the coronavirus pandemic

Sarah Walters, Best Practice Manager

There are positive signs emerging that the height of the pandemic is over. We’re seeing an increasing focus on societal and economic recovery, as life post-lockdown comes into view. Inequalities in society have been increasingly shown up by the virus, and there feels a real opportunity to set a new course after a pause that no one anticipated.

Some groups have fared worse than others[i]. We know that homelessness for women largely falls out of statutory data collection methods and is little understood. Where homelessness equates to rough sleeping, women’s homelessness can be missed, and many services do not perceive a need for a gendered provision or approach. The streets are a dangerous place. Women can end up sofa surfing with family or friends after relationship breakdown or forced into unsuitable living arrangements to avoid exposure to violence and intimidation on the street.

The pandemic has highlighted the link between health and homelessness, yet access to healthcare for women experiencing homelessness where services are not offered separately to men, can discourage registration and treatment. And many women who are homeless are mothers, suffering trauma through the removal of children, a facet of their experience which is not often recognised by the agencies that hold the keys to state resources. Provision for women experiencing homelessness must been seen through that recovery lens if we are to ensure that numbers are not going to rise for those with nowhere safe to call home[ii].

There is a chance to talk through some of this from different perspectives at a conference run by the Crisis Best Practice team in partnership with Solace Peer Support and Groundswell. Using recent reports which focused on homelessness across housing, motherhood and health as a starting point, these online events across three sessions will explore those topics through the viewpoints of practitioners, academics and researchers, women with lived experience of homelessness and international speakers.

The driver for this event came from the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust who fund individuals to travel to research areas of interest and bring those ideas back to the UK for dissemination and application. Many well-known organisations have started this way, for example Winston’s Wish and Surviving Economic Abuse, and the inspiration that has been taken from those trips has been the catalyst for change in many lives. To travel and see other countries tackle an issue that we face, encourages fresh thinking and a hope that seemingly intractable problems can be addressed. Meeting people who have dedicated their lives to addressing social issues and providing help for those at the sharp end of those inequalities, only spurs us on to see the same happen here.

The conference has generated a huge amount of interest and the level of sign-ups that we have had for each session has been high. The importance of a safe place to stay has been heightened during the pandemic and made us all think of the continuing pressure on those who are at risk of losing their home. Being confined to home has raised awareness of those women for whom home is not a place of safety. My hope is that the themes and experiences shared will provoke some thinking about a fresh approach to ending homelessness for women and encourage understanding, innovation and adaptation in services.  

[i] https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/covid-19-and-gender-equality-countering-the-regressive-effects
[ii] https://www.housing.org.uk/news-and-blogs/blogs/laura-davis/how-to-tackle-the-rise-in-women-at-risk-of-homelessness-and-rough-sleeping/

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