Homeless Link is embarking on the fourth Transatlantic Practice Exchange, a project delivered in partnership with the National Alliance to End Homelessness in the US.
Gender-informed Housing First: from Skid Row to London
When I first heard of the Transatlantic Practice Exchange, I immediately wanted to apply. Working in a Housing First service and being interested in how it was working for women, the Exchange was a rare opportunity to take an area of interest to the next level. A few months later, I was with the Downtown Women’s Centre in Skid Row, LA learning about their specialist women’s Housing First provision.
Gender and trauma-informed support
My experience in LA really brought home to me the meaning of gender and trauma-informed support. All of Downtown’s services are firmly underpinned by a value system that recognises the way that social inequalities act on women’s lives. This was evident in client comments about how there was no ‘power and control’ at the Centre, compared to other services they had accessed. They said they were asked about what they needed from the very first point of engagement.
The Housing First model, with its emphasis on choice and self-determination, is well suited to take on gender and trauma-informed approaches. In my new role, I am using this learning to develop shared values that will underpin the new services under my remit. I am also developing training for homelessness service providers that will include the key tenets of gender and trauma-informed support.
An emphasis on safety
Downtown’s approach acknowledged that each woman would have a very different experience and definition of safety. I learnt how important it is for services to be designed with this in mind, to avoid paternalistic attempts to make decisions for clients and allow them to take the lead on their support. There may be a great disparity between what a service provider and a woman accessing that service might consider ‘safe’. Service providers using the Housing First approach must be willing to take positive risks and adopt a creative approach to safety planning, especially around domestic abuse.
Resilience and community integration
In my previous role, I often found the practical aspects of re-housing someone the simplest part of the process. When someone is weighed down by trauma, low self-esteem, stigma and shame, changing entrenched patterns of behaviour, and building confidence and resilience, is far more difficult.
At Downtown, I learnt that community integration and a basic sense of belonging was key to addressing this challenge. The majority of their Housing First accommodation is in self-contained flats across two buildings. This allows the women living there to feel part of a community, form relationships with each other and attend groups close by. Downtown also do essential work in challenging the perceptions and stigma of the local community. I think there is much we can learn about prioritising community integration and fostering a sense of belonging for women supported by Housing First services.
Taking things forward
These topics will form the basis for discussion at a new Women and Housing First community of practice that I am setting up with the support of Homeless Link. We are aiming to bring services delivering Housing First with women together, as well as academics and other professionals interested in this area of practice.
The Exchange experience was pivotal to my thinking and knowledge around women and Housing First and I’m already integrating this learning into my new role. I’m really excited about its potential - so watch this space!
Applications close on Tuesday 19th December. For information on how to apply click here.
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Housing First & Homelessness Coordinator
Louisa Steele is the Housing First and Homelessness Coordinator at Standing Together and was a Transatlantic Practice Exchange participant in 2017.