Thursday, 20 October 2011

Wellington Women's Boarding House

Homelessness for women is more common than we think. At least, that’s if we think outside the “street homeless” box that might be where most of us first go. I screened homeless women for the largest supported housing provider in London for two years. We had 50 safe houses, and constantly had a waiting list. The women I interviewed were not living rough. They were coming out of prison, sleeping on floors, being offered a bed if they would have sex with the man whose house it was, staying in Refuges or crisis homeless accomodation. I didn’t meet one woman, in two years, who came out of a homeless or mental health hostel who had not been sexually assaulted by a male service user there.

The Homeworks Trust, an Auckland based charity specialising in issues around housing for women says homelessness is a significant social issue for women in Aotearoa. We know we have a home when:

•We have a space of our own that is considered to belong to us *
•It is secure: we know that “home” is going to be there when we get there
•We can come and go when we choose to and decide what we do in the space and how it will look
•It is safe
•We are free from physical, sexual and emotional abuse

These criteria are not met, too often, for women in Aotearoa, because on average we earn less than men; single-parent families are significantly poorer in Aotearoa, most of which are headed by women; and women and children are the disproportionately victimised through domestic and sexual violence. Add in racism impacting on housing choices, inadequate social housing, and non-existent choices for women with impairments, and the picture is even grimmer for some women.

Homeless women need housing services that take into account gender – the needs of women to heal after violence, the needs of women to be able to live free from violence. Generic homeless services, the vast majority of services in Aotearoa, are typically set up around the needs of homeless men.

Which is why the Wellington Women’s Boarding House is such a special place. It’s been constantly full, of women between the ages of 17 and 84, since being set up in 1992, prioritising short-term accomodation for those on low incomes.

If you’re interested in voluntary work around homelessness and women, the women who run the Boarding House, all volunteers apart from a live-in manager, would love to hear from you. They are keen to have women with diverse skills and backgrounds involved, in a wide range of capacities, so if the idea appeals, get in touch with Philippa at by 28 October.

*This isn’t the post for talking about home “ownership” as a plank of capitalism. Another day. I’m reading Homeworks Trust as meaning rented or owned accomodation by this phrase.

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