Streetwork Women’s Project – Case Study
Today’s bumper edition of Homeless Spotlight sees Streetwork highlight its women’s project alongside a blog from its CEO Kenny Forsyth and an interview with a Streetyouth practitioner.
Streetwork Women’s Project (SWP) has supported women in Edinburgh who face severe and multiple disadvantage since 2006. SWP offers a range of support with issues relating to accommodation, addictions, mental and physical health, legal matters, finances, meaningful activity, family and social networks, domestic abuse and commercial sexual exploitation.
The service seeks out women of all ages and backgrounds that are at risk and in crisis and offers ongoing one to one support to help them move from crisis to stability. The service is psychologically informed and strengths based, focusing on building relationships with women, and in using these relationships to assist them to achieve positive, sustainable change.
The following provides a case study which shows the complexity of need that many of our service users experience and the negative impact of childhood trauma people experience as adults. Furthermore, it shows the value in working with people at their pace to achieve positive outcomes.
SWP first met Kate approximately 4 years ago during an outreach shift for women involved in sex work. Kate was using heroin and cocaine heavily and selling sex to pay for her addiction. For many months Kate would visit the outreach service to chat with workers and would present with other women involved in sex work to share stories about different “customers” and their experiences of them. Workers began to build positive relationships with Kate and explained Streetwork services and the ongoing support that was available to her.
Kate was not interested in participating in ongoing support initially, so workers ensured that Kate knew she was welcome to continue to use the outreach service even though she did not want to take up more structured support at that time.
Kate carried on visiting the outreach van at least once a week for many months. The van became a place of comfort for her, a safe place to stop and take 10 minutes to talk. Kate spoke about the van being the only place she felt comfortable to talk about what she does without feeling judged or stereotyped. While Kate clearly valued the outreach service on offer, she remained reluctant to engage with ongoing structured support.
Kate stopped visiting the outreach van and workers established this was because she had been sentenced to spend one year in prison. When she was liberated from prison, Kate again became involved in sex work but did not visit the outreach van during the first six months. When the van passed Kate during this time, workers would stop to say hello and make sure that she knew she could visit the van if she wanted, or needed to.
After six months, Kate started visiting the outreach van regularly again. She explained that she had not done so sooner because she knew she needed help and would want to get help from SWP, but she had not felt ready to address her issues, finding them too painful to discuss. Workers had explained to Kate that she could access support when she felt ready and Kate spoke of how she appreciated knowing that support would be there when she was ready to accept it.
On leaving prison, Kate had been homeless and living in bed and breakfast accommodation. Kate eventually secured her own tenancy and visited the outreach van to ask for support to help her furnish the flat. Workers arranged to meet Kate the next day to help her with applying for grants and accessing services to help her set up her home. This was the first time Kate had allowed workers to meet her outwith the outreach van and was three years after she had first made contact.
SWP helped Kate to set up her home, building on the trust she already had in workers through her contact with them on the outreach van. This allowed Kate to begin to feel able to discuss more deep rooted issues which were impacting on her life.
Kate disclosed that she had been victim of childhood abuse. As an adult every close relationship she had experienced had been abusive. Kate had low self-esteem and experienced mental ill-health. Kate used drugs in attempt to escape the reality of her life and became involved in offending behaviour. Kate’s presentation was challenging when she was under the influence of drugs and so she had been excluded from multiple services and had no social network. Kate had lost her home when she was in prison and had entered a cycle of homelessness.
SWP workers helped Kate to identify her needs and to prioritise which she would tackle first. Kate was supported to break down support goals into manageable tasks so that the prospect of the work ahead did not overwhelm her. The support provided was flexible and responsive, and allowed Kate to move at her own pace. Working with and building on Kate’s strengths, SWP helped her to identify and plan to manage the risks in her life.
Kate has engaged with support regularly for the past year and has secured permanent housing. Kate now faces less exclusion and is slowly building a more positive social network. SWP continues to support Kate who is currently planning to move on from SWP support towards independence.
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