St Mungo’s Housing First worker Louisa has been selected to travel to Los Angeles as part of the Transatlantic Practice Exchange. She tells us about how she’ll be using the experience to bring back fresh ideas and approaches to help in her work ending homelessness.

I’m finding it hard to believe that I will be flying out to Los Angeles, California, USA, this Sunday 7 May!

I am lucky enough to be taking part in the Transatlantic Practice Exchange. The Exchange is an exciting opportunity for myself, as a representative of St Mungo’s, and four other frontline staff from services across the UK to spend a fortnight in the United States, exploring different practice topics and sharing learning on our return. Similarly, services in the UK have volunteered to host five participants from the US. The exchange is a collaboration between Homeless Link in the UK and the National Alliance to End Homelessness in the US and is funded by the Oak Foundation.

I have been a Housing First Worker at a St Mungo’s North London Housing First service for a year and a half now. Housing First works with people who have been homeless for long periods of time, and who have complex and varied needs. We provide them with a tenancy, intensive support to maintain that tenancy, and to make other positive changes in their lives.

‘Rebuilding shattered lives’

When I started at St Mungo’s Housing First I was amazed at the different ethos and approach, and the great outcomes that had been achieved. With a background working in specialist services for women, and a keen interest in gender studies, I became interested in homeless women’s experiences of services, especially as their needs can be different to those of homeless men.

The innovative research carried out by St Mungo’s in their ‘Rebuilding Shattered Lives’ report has highlighted how women are likely to have experienced sustained trauma, abuse and violence throughout their lives, have lost contact with their children, have complex and untreated mental and physical health issues, as well as myriad of other interrelated issues. This inspired me to start a project to find out more about the needs of women accessing our Housing First service, what we were doing well and where the challenges lay. So when the opportunity to take part in the exchange came up, I knew exactly what topic I wanted to focus on.

‘An intense but fascinating two weeks of learning’

On Monday morning, probably fairly dazed and half asleep, I will make my way to my host organisation, Downtown Women’s Centre, on Skid Row in Downtown LA, to meet chief programme officer, Amy Turk, and begin what will be an intense but fascinating two weeks of learning. The Downtown Women’s Centre has a well-established housing first service for women, with 119 on site apartments as well as a community based housing programme. They also run an incredibly busy day centre, where 200 women a day take a shower, get meals, clothes and advice, and access health and trauma recovery services.

I have more questions to ask than I can count! I have done so much reading on Housing First and the context of homelessness in the US I feel finally ready to get out there and experience it first-hand.
I will be sharing reflections and some of my experiences with you in a short series of blog postsat,, and I will be tweeting about it here, See you on the other side!