Niamh Kerr: From rape crisis to Crisis - reflections on ending women’s homelessness in Scotland

Crisis senior best practice officer Niamh Kerr on adopting gender-informed practices to end homelessness for women in Scotland.

In December 2022, I joined the Best Practice Team at Crisis. My role involves identifying and developing practice that ends homelessness.

I am new to the field of housing and homelessness but keen to bring my expertise on gender-based violence (GBV) and gender-informed practice. This expertise was developed over the last six years through my work within the Rape Crisis network, most recently at Rape Crisis Scotland, where I managed a national project that worked to tackle GBV in universities and colleges across the country, alongside my role as a Support Worker for survivors of sexual violence on the Rape Crisis Scotland National Helpline.

While wrapping my head around housing and homelessness policy and practice across the UK, a question I return to is: what about women? How do the housing and homelessness sectors meet the intersectional needs of women in policy and practice?

What have I learnt so far?

In recent years, there has been increased recognition across the sector that women experience housing and homelessness differently to men, and that there are different structural and individual factors that push women and men into homelessness. In Scotland, it is well documented that experiences of domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence are a lead cause of women’s homelessness, with 1 in 4 women applicants citing a violent or abusive household dispute as the cause of their homelessness in 2020.

Whilst there is some awareness of the different causes and consequences of homelessness for women, services are often not confident nor consistent enough in providing the information and support that women need. (For more information, see our 2019 briefing on domestic abuse and homelessness in Scotland.)

How can women be supported better?

To improve the response that people experiencing domestic abuse receive, Scottish Women’s Aid, alongside other key partners, have advocated for improved practice through their guide for social landlords. This guide provides comprehensive recommendations, including tasking all social landlords to develop and implement a domestic abuse policy.

In 2021, the Scottish Government passed ground-breaking legislation through the Domestic Abuse Protection (Scotland) Act 2021 which will allow social landlords to terminate an abuser’s interest in a Scottish Secure Tenancy and enable a victim of domestic abuse to remain in the home. However, this Act has not yet been implemented.

To ensure women experiencing domestic abuse avoid the trauma and indignity of homelessness, this Act must be implemented by government, alongside adopting the recommendations of the practice guide for social landlords.

Women accessing housing and homelessness services deserve a gender-informed response. Specialist organisations should be invited to share their expertise on how best to upskill and properly equip staff across services to respond appropriately and consistently to better meet the varied needs of women.

What good practice can we learn from?

There are many practice examples of gender-informed housing and homelessness support from across Scotland. Simon Community Scotland is hoping to open a dedicated support centre for women. Amina Muslim Women’s Resource Centre provides support to Muslim and Black and Minority Ethnic Women on housing, homelessness and No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) through its National Helpline. Some Local Authorities are awarding Rapid Rehousing Transition Plan funding to gender specialist organisations like SAY Women to provide tenancy sustainment support to young women who have experienced sexual violence. Women’s Aid groups provide lifesaving support and refuge to those experiencing domestic abuse across the country.

Closer to home, I am part of Crisis’s Ending Women’s Homelessness Community of Practice which brings practitioners from Crisis frontline services across the UK together to strengthen our offer to women service users.

What now?

We need to continue to move beyond recognition and toward action, to share and celebrate examples of good practice and integrate a gendered analysis of homelessness across all policies, legislation and practice solutions.

It is exciting to join this sector at a time when, post-pandemic, organisations are getting together to highlight this issue – from SAY Women’s national ‘Women’s Homelessness: What Needs to Change?’ conference that took place in Scotland this month, to Homeless Links ‘Women’s Housing Network’ forums recently established to bring practitioners together from across England.

We must maintain momentum, build on the foundations laid by specialist organisations and work to understand how the structural inequality that women face shapes their experiences of homelessness and their interaction with support services. We must all work harder to listen to, and platform the diverse voices of women with lived experiences of homelessness, and work together to push forward good practice into funded policy and legislative solutions.

Gender-informed provision is not only the responsibility of specialist services. It is equally important that mainstream services learn from these approaches and adapt ‘business as usual’ provision – making it more inclusive and alive to the intersectional nature of the inequalities people experience.

Final reflections

I believe that ending homelessness for women is achievable if gender-informed practice, combined with good policy choices, are backed by resource and funding. The examples are out there and the will across the sector is galvanising. We’ll continue to work until homelessness is ended for women in Scotland and the UK.

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