How Shelter Bristol is working to help homeless women

How Shelter Bristol is working to help homeless women

We know that women have a different experience of being homeless to men. If we want to help women who are homeless, then our services must take this into account.

Bristol has a disproportionate number of homeless women, so our local service is looking at ways to address this, while considering women’s different experiences of homelessness. ‘We have identified it’s an issue in Bristol,’ says Penny Walster, Shelter Bristol Hub Manager, ‘and we have been looking at what we can do collectively to overcome some of the barriers women face.

‘Women are consistently the largest group of people who are presenting to make homeless applications to the council, and they are also the largest group of people who present to the hub’. Penny added that these are mainly single-parent families led by women.

Many single homeless women are sleeping rough on the street, and are not housed in temporary accommodation. According to a sleep count in November 2018, 17% of rough sleepers in Bristol were women [1], compared to the national figure of 14%. As women rough sleepers tend to hide, the true number is likely to be even higher. ‘We had anecdotal feedback … that there was a growing number of women rough sleeping in the city, and it was becoming an increasing problem, leading to more women being put into very high-risk situations,’ Penny continued.

Women’s Homelessness Roundtable

To find out what can be done to help these women, our Bristol service held the Women’s Homelessness Roundtable. At the roundtable, advisers heard from female services users about their experience of being homeless, as well as the barriers they faced in finding somewhere to live. For example, one woman explained: ‘I moved from the street to living in a hostel with people I didn’t know. I wanted to feel safer than when I was on the street, but I didn’t.’

We discussed specific barriers and solutions, such as women feeling unable to access services because of childcare issues, or the need to acknowledge when delivering services that the women may have experienced trauma or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Penny said: ‘Lack of childcare options, problems getting to work, and keeping multiple appointments with housing offices, advice services and others were just some of the barriers that often prevent women from access support services.’

The roundtable involved many organisations that either work with women or homeless people who are based in Bristol. These included St Mungos, Next Link, Missing Link, Safe Link, One25, DHI, Elim Housing, and others. It was also attended by Shelter’s Chief Executive, Polly Neate, and Bristol Mayor, Marvin Rees.

‘This roundtable event was the first step to realising our joint ambition to properly amplify the voices of homeless women in our city; working together to overcome the barriers that prevent women from moving on to stable homes,’ Penny said. She added that together, these services are ‘trying to affect system change in the local area’, which needs to be done via partnerships with other organisations.

A great opportunity

Working with these organisations offers a great opportunity to help homeless women in Bristol. ‘The first two meetings we’ve had have had some impact already for those clients that have been involved,’ Penny explained. ‘They have felt much more connected to what’s going on in their local community and they’re starting to develop a voice around what they would like to see happening. Those are initial impacts, but as it develops, we would like to see it grow.’

In the longer term, more needs to be done to help homeless women in Bristol – such as assistance with employment and training. This will involve encouraging private companies to provide realistic apprenticeship opportunities to help homeless women return to work. ‘One of the other things that the women wanted to have a look at, was improving mental health service provision to try and tackle some of the underlying causes of homelessness,’ Penny added.

She also said that there was more to do to ‘lift the lid on women’s experience of homelessness in Bristol’, continuing: ‘The women within the action group are keen to lift the lid on women’s experience of homelessness in Bristol and are looking at how they can share their experiences and others through an awareness-raising campaign.’

Generous leadership

Our Bristol service is also looking for joint funding for a specialist, women-led homelessness service that will give users a single point of contact, who helps them through the process of finding and keeping a home. Penny described this as a ‘holistic wrap-around service’, that will offer ‘generous leadership’ by work in partnership with other organisations – rather than duplicating the great work which is already happening.

‘As a result of all these groups coming together, we’re motivated to keep the momentum going and to keep highlighting and overcoming the barriers that homeless women face,’ Penny concluded.

If you are homeless or need housing advice or support, call us on 0344 515 1430, or visit Shelter Bristol at New Bond House, Bond Street, Bristol, BS2 9AG.

We are here to help anyone with a housing problem. If you want to find out more about the advice we offer, visit our website.

[1] Rough sleeping in England: autumn 2018