Just Thinking. The story so far…

homeless woman2In October 2013, Justlife launched the Just Thinking project. Working directly with the residents of temporary accommodation, Just Thinking is researching the impact on health and wellbeing of living in these residences, in both Manchester and Brighton.

Just 10 weeks in and with the research in full swing, 18 people have participated, 22 interviews have taken place, 6 people are completing journals and 2 focus groups have been held. Many stories, circumstances and experiences are desperate and extremely harrowing, so we are pleased that we have services in place to support these people, as well as listen to them for research purposes.

In January we will be writing a short report – so watch this space. But if you are interested in following the research then please click through to the Just Thinking Blog (http://justthinkinguk.wordpress.com), here, like us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/justthinkingUK), or follow us on twitter (https://twitter.com/JustThinking_UK).

To give you a taster, this is the latest blog post:

When you picture a homeless person, is it a man?

When you picture a homeless person, you are probably thinking of a man. Try putting the phrase “homeless person” into google images. What do you see? The first 22 pictures are men; mostly with beards, and out of the first 100 pictures only 5 are women. But, does this depict the reality? There is a worrying increase of the number of female rough sleepers and those living in temporary accommodation. But Statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government show that half of adults in temporary accommodation are women.

Although still in the minority, this year we have seen more women than ever before and often they have complex and critical issues. They are often difficult to engage with, commonly in a dependent and possibly abusive relationship and can be harder to build trust with. I have approached four women to take part in the Just Thinking project, asking them to share their experiences of B&B accommodation. Two were extremely weary, one happy to talk – off the record, but didn’t want to sign anything or to officially contribute, fearful that someone would find out or that we would use her words against her. The other lady laughed and said something like: “Yeah I will share my story, but you won’t want to here it, it is bad, real bad,” but that is all she will say, nothing more. Two others were keen to participate but have failed to attend several appointments and are virtually impossible to contact. The women are keeping their distance.

This distance is felt across the Justlife services. All of the people that Justlife works with are hard-to-reach, but the women are extra-hard-to-reach. At the start of 2013 Justlife Manchester started a women’s group, but attendance was poor, many ladies were reluctant to take part in activities without their partners and others were not ready to engage in such an activity. We are recommencing the group in 2014 with a dedicated worker in place, fresh vigour and a good lot of learning. In Brighton, out of the 18 clients referred through the PathwayPlus, homeless hospital discharge project, we have been referred 5 women and it is these women who harder to help and engage. Furthermore, we are aware that there are other women who live in temporary accommodation surrounding our services, but who do not engage at all, or at most a few will come for a hot meal once a week.

Why is this? Why do they not respond? Traditional models of helping homeless people are geared towards men, and a recent article in the Independent discussed why they are not working. Alexia Murphy, head of St Mungo’s Womens Project said:

“Women’s problems are more complicated and they run deeper,”

Men, she explained, may typically have one main reason for ending up without a roof – having left the Army, perhaps, or having been rejected by their wives.

Treatment can focus largely on practical issues – such as getting homeless people an appointment at the Jobcentre. But women “will do anything to not end up homeless”, Ms Murphy added. 

…Females are likely to arrive on the street after a long, slow decline, stretching from childhood…

…But the women are emotionally, physically and  mentally shattered.

The article goes on to explain about how women commonly end up homeless, bruised and battered by life, often a downward spiral from childhood with domestic violence as a common theme and they have been failed by services. Many are heartbroken mothers with children in care, substance misuse is rife and homelessness is far from the only issue.

The picture is bleak. But this makes it all the more important to engage women, to listen to them, to hear their voice and to tailor services to their needs creating a support model that works for them.

If you know of any projects, work or research about engaging homeless women or those in temporary accommodation or if you have any ideas, please let us know… share the solution. There is hope for these women.