Today, 10 December, marks Human Rights Day and brings to a close the 16 days of action against gender-based violence. To mark the day we share how we’re supporting our colleagues, and other staff within the homelessness and women’s sector, to provide the best support for females who are also survivors of domestic abuse and violence.
Earlier this year, in partnership with Standing Together, we created our Keeping us Safer guidance. This guidance aims to provide staff within the homelessness and women’s sector with the skills and confidence to be able to support female clients who are also survivors of domestic abuse.
The guidance was created in collaboration with 16 women from our services who have experienced homelessness, abuse and violence. As part of the project the women were asked to share what strategies they used to keep themselves safe. One service user explained what she did when she felt unsafe, she said; “if I don’t feel safe, for example at night on the streets, I go to McDonald’s and eat my dinner very late, around 11pm or 12am. There you can stay inside and be warm and you’re okay.” Another client shared what it was like visiting a night shelter which had majority male occupancy, “(Night shelters are) better than the street but I could feel the look of the men on me … I could feel the sexual pressure and I was like, ‘Okay, I have to make a decent decision. I’ll stay here for two hours and then go.’” Some of the other strategies shared included sleeping in hidden locations or public places, constantly keeping on the move, and dressing as a male to avoid harm.
Our Keeping us Safer guidance aims to build a strong foundation from which professionals can better support women. The guide encourages you to think about and integrate different approaches which support women’s needs and help to build supportive relationships. The guidance also includes examples of challenges professionals face when supporting women; barriers you may come across within your service; ways to look after your own wellbeing when working with someone with trauma; and suggestions on how to overcome these barriers to best support your female client and create a safe and secure environment.
Jillian Thursby, Regional Head and Women and Domestic Abuse Lead, worked on the guidance and said; “We know that women experience homelessness differently from men and it’s our job to improve our support offer to fit their needs. The Keeping us Safer guidance has taken the perspectives of women experiencing homelessness, violence, and abuse and created an approach which encourages staff to consider these experiences in order to improve the support offered. The guidance was piloted in three St Mungo’s Services – an outreach team, mixed gender hostel, and women’s only hostel – and staff fed back that the guidance gave them new ways to discuss violence and safety with both clients and partner agencies.”
“I am grateful also to St Mungo’s… they never give up. They are always coming to see me and check if I’m okay which is keeping me in contact with my reality, otherwise I would be lost.” – Service user
Ultimately, we hope this approach will contribute to changing attitudes and improve support for women in all their diversity, whether they are rough sleeping, hidden homeless, or living in homelessness support services.