We believe access to safe housing is one of the most fundamental human rights and a vital factor in enabling women and their children to flee from violence or abuse.
However, huge numbers of women face numerous obstacles to access housing when attempting to leave an abusive perpetrator. This can lead to serious and often dangerous consequences, with many women having to stay in abusive relationships as the system is so hard to navigate.
Of the 121 women who moved through Solace’s refuges in 2016, 22% had a social tenancy on arrival whilst only 13% had a social tenancy on departure and 87% of the women left the refuge accommodation for continued temporary accommodation.
Of those with a prior secure tenancy, only 38% rehoused received an equivalent secure tenancy following a stay in the refuge; 62% ended up in a situation of housing insecurity and 35% of the cases examined where the tenancy was in joint name, the perpetrator still remained in the property, even where this was a family sized unit.
We are very aware that Local Authorities in London are struggling with a housing crisis where suitable, affordable accommodation is often hard to find. The introduction of the Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) this year potentially provided opportunities for Local Authorities to work in partnership with the 3rd sector to deliver a more joined up approach to reduce and prevent homelessness.
Southwark Council, as one of the trailblazer authorities for the HRA, has been proactive in working in partnership with Solace to help develop a coordinated response to VAWG and homelessness within the borough, including:
- Using the HRA Trailblazer to further embed the VAWG and Homelessness work, fully funding a full-time, co-located, Solace worker within the homeless department.
- Funding Solace to be part of the London Training Academy, to develop a specialist VAWG training package not only to Southwark staff but also to homelessness staff across other London authorities.
- Providing high quality, temporary accommodation with support through the Rhea Project, a partnership between Solace, Southwark Housing Solutions (SHS) and Commonweal Housing. This project provides dispersed, self-contained accommodation with floating support to women and their children as an alternative to refuge accommodation.
- Using the Rough Sleepers Initiative (RSI) fund to collocate a Solace Senior Support advocate within SHS to support women with multiple needs, leaving prison to be acquire and maintain safe housing and to prevent sexual exploitation and homelessness.
This partnership exemplifies what can be achieved when organisations work together in a transparent and meaningful way. By providing this holistic model of support, women and their children are effectively supported to flee abuse. This partnership has helped 100s of women to feel believed, supported and ultimately assisted to move to a safe, suitable environment, with specialist support, in order to cope, recover and move towards independence.
Whilst a lack of suitable, affordable accommodation remains a key factor, Southwark Housing Solutions and Solace Women’s Aid have shown that a positive attitude, an innovative and joined-up approach can go a long way to improving the experience and outcomes for homeless women fleeing VAWG.
Solace is calling on all London Local Authorities to adopt the ‘Southwark Model’ and to work in partnership with specialist VAWG providers, like Solace, to achieve this so that women and children’s lives are not placed at further risk of abuse due to gatekeeping and poor practice. Solace and Safer London as co-founders and chair of the London VAWG and Housing group have worked collaboratively with stakeholders to develop some key asks:
- VAWG survivors not disadvantaged or placed at risk under the Homeless Reduction Act
- No survivor loses their housing, secure tenancy or priority status
- Housing providers hold perpetrators to account and maintain tenancy status for survivor
- Sufficiently resourced refuge spaces or single sex alternative accommodation is available for all survivors made homeless due to VAWG.
- Accessible refuge spaces or gender specific alternatives for all survivors in London.
Long term housing
- A variety of long-term housing options should be offered to survivors of VAWG including Housing First, social and private rented sector dedicated VAWG schemes, reciprocal moves and sanctuary schemes.
- Access to affordable long-term accommodation that is safe, secure and to an acceptable standard.
- Smooth and timely move-on from refuge and other crisis accommodation.
- Housing strategies to take account of the specific needs of women fleeing VAWG.
- Targeted provision and ring-fenced funds to meet the needs of women including those who are rough sleeping.
- Provision of a safety net to enable all women fleeing VAWG, including those with No Recourse to Public Funds, to be able to access safe accommodation.