The review of the Women’s Night Service, a six-month pilot project that provided emergency accommodation to vulnerable homeless women, recommends that the city provide the Service on a permanent basis.
It is not possible to say with any accuracy how many homeless women there are in Bristol, since many stay with friends or in mixed accommodation rather than risk the dangers of sleeping rough. The root causes of women becoming homeless often include abuse and violence from families, partners or people they meet, together with drug and alcohol dependencies and street sex work.
Women who took part in a survey conducted by the researchers identified ‘a safe place to stay’ as their most immediate need, followed by ‘help finding somewhere to live’ and ‘something to eat’. They expressed concerns about their physical, sexual and mental safety when sleeping rough or in emergency shelters shared with men, which are potentially more dangerous that sleeping rough because women are in a minority among men. Apart from dedicated domestic-violence services, there are now no emergency women-only services in Bristol to which women can self-refer and there is currently no emergency dedicated female-only accommodation in Bristol.
The women found the Night Service safe because there were no men present or as Ellie, one user of the service put it, ‘you get treated right and no blokes’. The Service, the first of its kind in Bristol, ran from December 2009 to May 2010 and accommodated 51 different women in 580 places in the first four months alone. The largest group of women to use the service were aged 16-25 (43 per cent), with almost 77 per cent overall under the age of 40.
Most of the women have major and interlinked problems, including mental-health difficulties, drug and alcohol dependency, prostitution and self-harming behaviours. They had experienced difficulty accessing other support networks in the past because the complexity of their problems meant they were passed from one service to the next. During the time they spent at the service, the approach of the workers made it possible for women to engage with them and accept support to access other services and more settled accommodation.
A wider mapping study carried out in conjunction with the review of the Night Service identified the lack of provision for women with children due to lack of funding.
Speaking about the findings of the research, Dr Williamson, one of the report’s authors, said:
‘It needs to be recognised that the needs of homeless women differ from the needs of homeless men and that, if homeless women are not physically and emotionally safe, then they are vulnerable to further abuse, which compounds the problems they already face. The service provided a safety net where women could access a safe place to stay, food and a respite from the men in their lives.
We believe that the Women’s Night Service provided an essential service which ensured that the basic needs of homeless women – safe shelter and food – were met. The service also offered a valuable opportunity for staff to engage with service users in order to address their wider needs and to engage women in other relevant services. The Night Service acted as a successful service in its own right and as an important addition to the options available to women in Bristol.’
The full report can be downloaded from the School for Policy Studies website.
Please contact Dara O’Hare for further information.
Sandra’s story Sandra is a 20-year-old woman and one of the first to use the Night Service. She was referred to the night service by Trinity Road Police Station. She was young, vulnerable and at risk of being bullied. She also had a lot of family issues that she was trying to deal with. During the early months of the Night Service, referrals were made for Sandra to a woman’s hostel. An assessment was made, which she attended but turned down, citing a dislike of hostels. She went through a phase of drinking, coming into the Night Service quite drunk, and dabbling in drugs. It got to the point where she was banned for a few nights. When Sandra returned after her ban, Night Service workers sat down and talked about what she was doing to herself and what her goals were. The next day she got in touch with her mother and sister, who were happy to hear from her. She now visits her family on a regular basis, which has made a big difference to her behaviour. A referral has been made to a supported-housing project and she is waiting for an assessment.