Our Women’s Strategy Manager, Cat Glew shares how St Mungo’s has responded to women’s homelessness during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When the COVID-19 crisis struck, St Mungo’s reacted quickly to support thousands of vulnerable women and men off the streets and into hotel and emergency accommodation where they could safely self-isolate.
But as domestic abuse charities warned at the beginning of lockdown, women and survivors in our services have been living with two pandemics during this time – the new threat of coronavirus, and the old and endemic risk of violence against women.
The link between homelessness, domestic abuse and other violence against women is well documented. New evidence published by Women’s Aid last week found that 70% of respondents to their Survivor Voice survey who were still living with their perpetrator said that fears around housing and homelessness were preventing them from leaving.
Unfortunately, these fears are well-founded – for many survivors, homelessness is the price they pay for leaving their abuser. Data from the No Women Turned Away programme – which supports women facing additional barriers to accessing refuges spaces – shows that of the 243 women supported, 17 slept rough and 93 sofa-surfed while waiting for refuge.
As we have seen over the past months, the impact of any pandemic tends to be felt most strongly among the most marginalised groups. Agencies running services by and for Black and minoritised women have spoken out about disproportionate risks and danger of abuse and homelessness during COVID-19, calling for urgent action from government.
Domestic abuse is a driver of homelessness and the risk to survivors continues on the streets and in homelessness services. We also know that the risk of serious harm from domestic abuse has risen during COVID-19. With staff and clients in our services facing more challenges than ever, we needed to respond quickly.
St Mungo’s has worked with our partners Standing Together and Single Homeless Project to produce quick guidance on domestic abuse and sexual violence in homelessness settings during COVID-19, supported by Homeless Link who also hosted our webinar on women’s safety. These resources are designed to help workers in homelessness services ask the right questions to help women and survivors keep safe.
As people self-isolating in emergency hotels face an uncertain future. We are also calling on government to secure safe accommodation and support for women and survivors with our No Going Back campaign. Our letter to Dame Louise Casey sets out how the government Rough Sleeping Taskforce can work with local authorities to provide homeless women and survivors with a safe home free from abuse.
We watch with interest as the Domestic Abuse Bill progresses through parliament. We are working with partners to make the case that domestic abuse accommodation and community services should receive sustainable funding and that all survivors of domestic abuse should receive automatic priority for housing from local authorities. We support calls to lift ‘no recourse to public funds’ restrictions for survivors of violence against women to give survivors access to safe accommodation and support.
Looking forward to the second year of our Women’s Strategy, our plans will shift as we continue to respond to the pandemic, but our focus on women’s safety is needed now more than ever. We commit to understand and address the additional barriers to safety and recovery faced by homeless Black and minoritised women.
As we celebrate our female clients and volunteers with lived experience, we will also continue to listen and be held accountable by them as we improve our response to violence and abuse.
Support our No Going Back campaign – write to your MP.