16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence is an annual United Nations campaign that runs from 25 November to 10 December, and this year’s theme is UNITE! Activism to end violence against women and girls.
In this blog, we look at the services provided by St Mungo’s to support women experiencing homelessness and hear from Michelle Chapman, one of our Domestic Abuse Navigators, about her work.
The experience of homelessness can vary greatly between men and women. The heightened risk of domestic abuse and sexual violence against women can act as both a potential cause and effect of homelessness, and from the women we support at St Mungo’s, we know that safety is often their most crucial concern.
As a survivor of abuse herself, Michelle understands the impact that this can have:
“Being a survivor and working with survivors to me is the ultimate privilege. I see the strength that they have to survive on the streets. They have survived before I knew them and always managed, no matter how hard it is.
But I also see a fragility in them that’s hidden behind those harsh exteriors and the ravages of a life that some of us can only imagine. The fragility extends to everyone who is in a situation that is beyond their control, whether it is because of their mental health or just the trials of life.”
At St Mungo’s we provide women-only services and spaces to prevent women being re-traumatised by accessing support with male clients, particularly if they have experienced violence or abuse from a male perpetrator. We believe that women in all areas should have the choice to access mixed or women-only services and spaces based on their safety and preference.
Health problems are also a major issue, and the average age of death for a woman sleeping rough is just 43. Both women and men alike who are experiencing homelessness are at high risk of physical health problems and are often exposed to further harm from smoking, substance use, poor diet and dangerous living conditions.
“Some of the girls I support may have addictions and seek to get ‘their fix’ early in the day. Drugs briefly remove them from the harsh realities of life to that comfortable place they call normality.”
Women who experiencing homelessness also have the same physical health concerns as women in the general population, but these are less commonly considered within homelessness services. For example, it is essential that women experiencing homelessness still have access to early detection and screening services, including cervical smear testing and breast cancer screening, as well as age-related health checks.
At St Mungo’s, our colleagues never give up on the people we support. Frontline workers like Michelle spend a great deal of time building trust and working with women to create practical and personal strategies, helping them to move away from the streets safely, and working with them alongside service-based staff throughout the process to ensure a real recovery from homelessness.
“Today’s a good day and one of the women who doesn’t normally engage with me is eager to talk. Normally I am chasing for this but I have found that leaving a message on a note card is the magic key to start a conversation. It’s brief, but nonetheless we chatted. The foundations for future meetings are there and this makes me smile.
I wonder how the world sees these girls. The judgements are always hiding under the surface and I wonder if they knew their stories if they would they feel any different. The nature of the job means that frustrations constantly play with my emotions, as no matter what we do it never feels like it is enough. But the reality is that we are all doing something and we will continue to support these women, no matter what.”
If you’re concerned about someone you’ve seen sleeping rough, please contact StreetLink to refer an individual to local homelessness support services.