This blog was originally posted on Housing Partners' website on 23.06.2020.
The link between domestic abuse and homelessness is evident says Kelly Henderson, co-founder of the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance.
Policy makers and those working to end homelessness across the UK are grabbing the opportunity of the ‘Everybody In’ order as a chance for our country to seek to end homelessness for good. But what of the root causes of homelessness? According to the Central and North West London NHS Foundation, 70% of female rough sleepers have experienced abuse from a partner or ex-partner and 40% of those women said that they had also experienced domestic abuse within their family home; as one of the pathways to homelessness, the correlation is stark.
Last week the Daily Telegraph reported each fortnight in the UK, at least three women are killed by their partner or ex-partner – and since lockdown began that number has jumped to five women a week. In reaction to this very real threat, it can be surmised that more women will leave their homes and without access to safe, secure properties, a proportion of these women could well end up on the street.
We spoke to Kelly Henderson, Co-founder of the Domestic Abuse Housing Alliance (DAHA), an organisation providing training and best practice to housing providers with regards to domestic abuse policy and methods of intervention.
Lockdown has – and will continue to – exacerbate tension in homes; the matter is without doubt, pressing. Kelly has seen this first-hand at Gentoo, where she also holds the role of Business Manager (Domestic Abuse). Gentoo reported a three-fold increase in the number of referrals for domestic abuse since lockdown, when compared with a three-week period at the same time last year.
As Kelly puts it, this rise in calls direct to Gentoo, “just shows as a housing provider, we are a source of support and help.” Applying this jump nationally, without a concerted, multi-agency effort, the rise in referrals could be a homelessness disaster waiting to happen.
“There are so many different routes into homelessness for women; domestic abuse being one of the key ones,” Kelly explains. “If you can imagine, if you’ve been the victim of domestic abuse and you’ve been isolated, you don’t have a ready-made group of family or friends to seek support from, you might not work anymore because of the perpetrator. So, you don’t have that range of networks that you might have once had. Slowly but surely, you’re an isolated person with little confidence to reach out and seek that support that you need.”
With many services stretched thinly, housing providers are well placed to be a port in the storm for tenants experiencing domestic abuse, mitigating the risk of survivors falling through the cracks in the system.
According to government figures, rough sleepers in the UK are predominantly male. MHCLG estimates that women account for only around 12% of rough sleepers, meaning that many of the provisions in place are designed for men or along mixed sex lines.
According to the University of York, proximity to men mean women are less likely to access homelessness services and are therefore, less likely to be detected in rough sleeper counts, choosing to sleep in more hidden spots to avoid the potential for further abuse.
Early intervention and access to secure housing is necessary to prevent those suffering from domestic abuse slipping through the net. There is currently however, no specific regulatory requirement for housing providers to have a stand-alone domestic abuse policy; one of the core aims of DAHA is to encourage housing providers to adopt one.
Giving context to the current state of play, Kelly explains: “Housing providers are required to have an antisocial behaviour policy (which might include domestic abuse) but I think the whole point is that it’s very different from antisocial behaviour and we don’t want it to be lumped in with that, making it easier for people just to ignore domestic abuse. We want clear regulation to say that housing providers must have a policy in terms of recognising and responding to domestic abuse.”