Homelessness charity Shelter* reported in December 2019 that 280,000 people in England were recorded as homeless, with thousands more at risk. This includes women and their children who are particularly vulnerable to becoming homeless. This group are less likely to become ‘visible’ rough sleepers than men, instead becoming part of the UK’s ‘hidden’ homeless - forced to stay in unsafe or temporary accommodation such as hostels, squats or B&Bs, or end up sofa-surfing in the homes of friends and family.
One of the primary causes of homelessness amongst women is domestic abuse.
Last month, Women’s Aid** reported that in 2019, a staggering 1.6 million women in the UK experienced domestic abuse with 64% of women referred to specialist domestic abuse refuges being turned away. Lack of regular and reliable funding is a key reason for women being turned away from refuges, along with a lack of facilities for women (and their children), refuge’s being at full capacity, issues with immigration status or because the specialist services needed to support women’s needs (e.g. mental health issues or addictions) were not available.
This reduced funding means that the number of refuge bed spaces in England is now 30% below the number recommended by the Council of Europe, with more women being turned away to face an impossible and dangerous choice: return to a perpetrator whilst waiting for a refuge space or become homeless.
Leaving an abusive partner takes a huge amount of courage – on average a woman will experience just under six years of abuse before accessing domestic abuse support services. And typically, women seeking refuge are likely to have at least one child with them or be pregnant, over a third will also be in need of specialist mental health support services and many will have overwhelming financial difficulties which refuge services are increasingly unable to meet.
Women’s Aid’s ‘No Woman Turned Away’ project reported that when they had nowhere else to go, 11% of women in the study slept rough and 40% stayed with family or friends during their escape from domestic abuse. With, nowhere safe to go to and often with limited access to enough money to finance their own tenancy many women find themselves homeless.
As a result of this, there is a ‘priority need’ for safe and secure housing options for women escaping domestic abuse and at risk of homelessness - either because they can’t access the services of a refuge or because they are moving on from a refuge and into resettlement.
This is where the Women in Safe Homes Fund steps in.
The need for a Property Fund with a gender lens, to provide women in the UK who are at risk of homelessness with a safe and affordable home was recognised by Big Society Capital (BSC) as part of its work addressing the housing needs of women.
As a result the Women in Safe Homes property fund is being launched as a solution to this lack of affordable, safe and secure homes and will enable more women and children to be safe and to live their lives free from violence and abuse.
We have collaborated with Patron Capital as joint Fund Manager to create and manage the Fund with social impact investment from BSC. And in line with its gender lens focus, the investment teams managing the Fund here and at Patron Capital are women-led.
The Fund will invest directly in around 750 homes over its lifetime within communities across the UK. It will buy the properties and lease them to women’s sector and homelessness charities, including Preston Road Women's Centre in Hull, which in turn will rent to women, with a secure tenancy.
By partnering with women’s sector charities, we can ensure that women will not only be provided with safe and affordable housing but will also have access to support networks needed to help them rebuild their lives.
Lisa Hilder, Trustee and Treasurer of Preston Road Women’s Centre explains: “The WISH Fund will provide a good stepping-stone for women's sector organisations who are looking to develop their own property portfolios for financial sustainability. Many more homes will be provided for vulnerable women and women's sector organisations will gain experience of managing property which will enable them eventually to purchase properties from the Fund or through other mechanisms and generate sustainable income streams to support their vital services into the future.”
The WISH Fund will be targeting a first close April 2020 at around £15-£30m and is currently in discussions with investors.
Please get in touch if you are a women’s sector or homelessness charity or social enterprise and which have an infrastructure that would enable you to lease properties and rent these to women who are experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
*Shelter’s report ‘This is England: a picture of homelessness in 2019’
**2020 Women’s Aid Annual Audit
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