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Homeless services failing women

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female homelessness, homeless women's issues, St Mungo's report, Rebuilding Shattered Lives reportReport shows sad chronicle of missed opportunities to help the UK’s homeless women.

In 2013, women made up slightly more than a quarter of the people who accessed homelessness services, a percentage that translates into approximately 10,000 individuals.

A charity helping homeless people, St Mungo’s, released a report recently, called Rebuilding Shattered Lives, which says, ‘We suspect that the true number of women who are homeless is higher than these figures suggest.

‘Many will be ‘hidden homeless,’ sofa surfing, staying with family or friends, or trapped in abusive relationships because they have nowhere else to go.

‘Others will be squatting or living in crack houses, or engaged in prostitution.’

As men are the majority of the users of homelessness services, it isn’t surprising that most of the available care is developed for and by men.

However, Charles Fraser, St Mungo’s chief executive, said, ‘This evidences a sad chronicle of missed opportunities where women fail to get the help they need.’

Writing in the Guardian, Alexia Murphy, St Mungo’s lead on women’s homelessness, said, ‘The women we work with often enter services at a much later stage than men, and when their problems have become more severe and enduring.’

‘They also tend to have particularly ‘complicated, interrelated problems contributing to their homelessness, which are often rooted in trauma due to violence and abuse in childhood and then adulthood.’

One of the main hurdles women face in accessing appropriate care is the lack of women-only services.

Because many of the women using or approaching homelessness services have experienced domestic violence, they ‘do not generally like being a minority in mixed hostels or housing projects as they can feel unsafe in male-dominated environments.’

Add to that vulnerability an uncertainty of what services are available and the opportunities for women to miss out on care and support grow substantially.

And, unfortunately, the uncertainty of what is available is evident on both sides of the care system.

Many staff have not received training specific to dealing with self-harm or eating disorders and may not know where to refer women for more help, particularly as more female homeless people (70 per cent) have mental health needs than do men (57 per cent).

Thirdly, losing contact with their children is another powerful reason why women do not contact homelessness services.

The St Mungo’s report stresses that leadership is key to preventing and addressing women’s homelessness and points to the dangerous mix of continued growth of homelessness in the UK and funding decreases, particularly for specialist services.

As the number of available specialist services decrease, remaining organisations, both specialist and general, have to try to fill the gaps in provision.

Which obviously leaves wider cracks in society for people to fall through.

Pointing out the 17 different services that women may come into contact with before and during homelessness, one of the report’s ten recommendations is that ‘Local authorities should ensure organisations that come into contact with vulnerable women recognise the risks of homelessness and are equipped to provide, or signpost to, preventative support.’

Other recommendations include ‘Commissioners must ensure that local provision gives women a choice between women-only or mixed services,’ and that ‘Each Local Authority should identify a senior member of staff to lead on women and homelessness, including improving and coordinating service provision and strategy, and monitoring progress on ending women’s homelessness.’

The report also recommends that ‘The Minister for Women and Equalities be added to the membership of the Ministerial Working Group on homelessness to ensure that it expressly considers women’s homelessness.’

St. Mungo’s itself is planning to expand its Women’s Strategy this year by putting together a toolkit and training package to share with other agencies.

‘Homeless women have been overlooked for too long,’ the report says in conclusion.

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