Sign up for our weekly newsletter
NTU Sustainability in Enterprise

Framework at 20: Women and Homelessness in Nottingham

4 January 21 words: Eve Smallman
illustrations: Kasia Kozakiewicz

Sofas are cosy home comforts for most people. But for many homeless women, who have fled from their homes to the comparable safety of the streets, a sofa is simply a makeshift bed for the night. But what they get in that mild comfort can come with a dark price, and can mean they struggle to escape a never-ending cycle of abuse. We speak to Framework’s Operations Manager for women’s and families’ services Claire Windebank about the physical and mental difficulties homeless women face, and how Framework helps them get control of their lives…

When walking around Nottingham city centre, it’s not often that you see homeless women on the streets. A study by Women’s Aid in 2019 said that 41% of homeless women sofa surf, and just 7% sleep rough. For many of them, homelessness is a better option than returning home, with 40% of homeless women being victims of domestic abuse. Claire Windebank, Framework’s Operations Manager responsible for women’s and families’ services, says, “People lose their homes to flee all of it, which is really disruptive for women. We started delivering a Homeless Families Service a couple of years ago, and more often than not it’s families with single mothers and children.”

As well as directly leading to women leaving their homes, domestic abuse can also play a part in other factors which lead to women becoming homeless. “Homeless women often come from a background where they've been abused in childhood, which leads to multiple deprivations such as poverty, drugs and alcohol,” Claire tells me. “It's just this whole cycle where they end up being abused throughout their lives.”

When the harsh reality of these situations lead to women ending up on the streets, they face a number of physical and mental challenges that homeless men don’t. “Not only do they have the issues of trying to stay warm, but women also have periods each month, probably without proper sanitary protection,” Claire explains. “Mentally, just being not safe and secure is really challenging for women on the streets, which can lead to further drug and alcohol issues, even if they didn't have them before.”

There are also more immediate dangers facing them, such as sexual assault, rape and violence perpetrated by other homeless people and members of the public. “They might hook up with men on the streets, thinking they will protect them, only to find that they go on to abuse them further – that might be physical abuse, coercive control or controlling drug and alcohol supplies,” Claire says. “Women will try and avoid being on the streets – women and many young people will sofa surf instead. This could mean that they engage in sex work and go around to people's houses, or that men let them stay in their houses. But that usually comes with some kind of sexual exploitation.” 

Not having a stable home to live in can also make it really difficult for women who have children. “You've got to have an address and have the right skills to be able to parent a baby,” Claire continues. “We do help with that, as some of our homeless clients have children removed through child protection. That's simply because they're just not in a place where they are able to look after children owing to the lifestyle they find themselves, but this can feel like a bereavement and further impact women’s mental health.”

With many homeless women sofa surfing, it can make it difficult for Framework’s team to reach them, and often they either find out about them through word of mouth or from the women coming through other services. But when they do find them, they have a range of systems to help women get back control of their lives, such as their Women’s Complex Needs service. 

Mentally, just being not safe and secure is really challenging for women on the streets, which can lead to further drug and alcohol issues, even if they didn't have them before

“Our support staff will work with people to try and get them to a point of stability, perhaps where we can offer accommodation, and then we can start to work with drug and alcohol interventions or mental health, as well as developing life skills,” Claire tells me. “But it is very, very difficult with some of the women that are entrenched, as you've got a whole life of abuse to unpick. That often prevents women from wanting to stop using drugs and alcohol because they have to face up to all this other stuff.”

 

Some of the basic services Framework provides includes helping them book drug and alcohol recovery appointments and keeping them up-to-date with their GP. But for those who are on the road to recovery, they’ll also teach them cooking, budgeting and socialising with neighbours, among other things. “The long term aim is to equip people with the skills to live independently and to help resettle them, but a lot of the time, it is that very front stage kind of stuff about meeting basic needs,” Claire says.

By using Framework’s services, it is possible for homeless women to break their spiralling cycles, get control of their lives, and even be reunited with their children. “I met a woman who helped us at a conference that had come through the Complex Needs service,” Clare recalls. “She’d had her children removed, but was able to get them back after stabilising and is now working as a support worker in the sector. It can happen.”

So what can the people of Nottingham do to support homeless women? You can donate to Framework, to help them continue to provide fantastic services. Claire also stresses the importance of helping young women, particularly care leavers, go on to training and employment. 

Claire finishes by urging members of the public to have a greater understanding of homeless women. “People shouldn’t judge them by how they see them on the street – they should actually think about how complicated these women's lives are and how that leads to this cycle of deprivation.” Abuse shows its forms in and out of the shadows, and it’s easy to ignore it when you’re heading home for a relax on the settee. But when you are curled up, and your mind wanders back to that woman you glanced at… Think about how a seat on the sofa is both a comfort and a danger for them. And think about the wonderful people and services in the city, at Framework and elsewhere, that help provide them with a chance for change. 

frameworkha.org/service/womens-complex-needs

We have a favour to ask…

LeftLion is Nottingham’s meeting point for information about what’s going on in our city, from the established organisations to the grassroots. We want to keep what we do free to all to access, but increasingly we are relying on revenue from our readers to continue. Can you spare a few quid each month to support us?

Support LeftLion now

You might like this too...

Cluck Cluck Bang

You might like this too...