Women’s Development Unit – a partnership to end women’s homelessness

Who we are

The Women’s Development Unit (WDU) was a partnership between The Connection at St Martin’s and Solace Women’s Aid, looking at women’s homelessness and rough sleeping. The WDU advocates for change to ensure services across the homelessness sector can meet the needs and risks that are a day-to-day reality for women experiencing homelessness in London.

While sleeping rough is a devastating experience for all, women can face additional dangers and vulnerabilities. There is a very well-established link between violence against women and girls (VAWG) and homelessness, and almost all women sleeping rough have experienced gendered violence in their lives. However, homelessness among women has received less attention from policy makers, the media, and in some cases service providers, resulting in a gap between women’s needs and existing service provision.

white text on purple background reads: The Unit aims to bring strategic attention to this gap by building evidence and advocating for change at a policy and practice level. We work alongside experts in the field to make the case for better understanding, better data, and better funding for women experiencing homelessness and multiple disadvantage.

The Unit worked to support services by developing best practice resources with the combined expertise of the Unit, experts across the women’s and homelessness sectors and women with lived experience of homelessness. The Unit’s position within two service delivery organisations allows us to pilot these resources internally and support our own organisations to continually build gender- and trauma-informed support for women.

Our Work So Far:

Strategy for Ending Women’s Homelessness in London

In March 2022, we launched a Strategy for Ending Women’s Homelessness in London and accompanying Evidence Report. They include practical recommendations and brief guidance for a range of stakeholders, from policy makers and commissioners to service providers and practitioners.

The Strategy calls for women’s needs and experiences to be considered right from the start when planning, commissioning, and delivering homelessness services.

We developed this strategy through engaging with a range of stakeholders to gain an in-depth understanding of the gaps in support for women experiencing homelessness. The Unit is grateful to have been supported by a strategic advisory group with representatives from homelessness and VAWG organisations, local authorities, London Councils, the Greater London Authority (GLA), the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC) and MHCLG (now DLUHC), and a consultant expert by experience.

Best Practice

The Unit provided training, advice and support regarding service development and delivery, supporting organisations to increase the gender-responsiveness of their services and increasing their capacity to meet the needs of women experiencing homelessness and multiple disadvantage. We have delivered training to over 250 London-based practitioners from the homelessness and VAWG sectors, supporting practitioners to identify and understand the needs of women in their services and provide gender and trauma informed support. We also offer bespoke, tailored training sessions to partner agencies, designed to meet the needs and experiences of the organisations and services.

In 2021, the Unit consulted with experts by experience and practitioners across the homelessness and women’s specialist sectors to establish best practice principles (published in January 2022) around developing women’s spaces within homelessness services, a key service need in ensuring women feel safe accessing services.

As part of this work, we developed guidance for establishing Women’s Spaces within Homelessness Setting and supported development of The Connection at St Martin’s new women’s space operating on Wednesday mornings

What else did we work on?

In our second year, we advocated for implementation of the strategy recommendations, particularly around collecting better data on women’s homelessness and supporting new and renewing strategies to become gender informed. We continue to engage with relevant opportunities to inform policy development, legislative changes, and consultations.

Working closely with partners and the Life Off the Streets Women’s Workstream, in October 2022 we co-delivered a London Women’s Rough Sleeping Census to collect more comprehensive data on women experiencing homelessness and trial a different method of data collection.

As part of our capacity–building, best practice work we are currently creating a gender-informed self-assessment toolkit for homelessness organisations. The toolkit will detail the specifics of what a gender-informed approach looks like in practice, setting out clear expectations of what it means to be gender-informed and responsive to the needs of women in services. It will also enable services to review existing provision and identify their unique gaps and learning needs and will include suggestions for how to address those identified.

Our Work (Publications and Involvement) –

Strategy for Ending Women’s Homelessness
Evidence Report and Guidance: A Strategy for Ending Women’s Homelessness
Guidance to support the implementation of our strategy
Women’s spaces within homelessness settings – Setting up your service
London Women’s Rough Sleeping Census
Evening Standard podcast
Standard Issue podcast
Evening standard news article on strategy launch