PUBLICATION: Housing First & Women – Case Studies from across Europe


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Women experience homelessness at a horrifying rate and yet their homelessness is often invisible and underestimated. A study by Bretherton & Pleace (2018) highlighted that women avoid emergency shelters designed for people sleeping rough because of fear or because services are not designed to meet their specific gender-related needs. Women sleeping rough hide and conceal their gender and are more likely to rely on informal arrangements, such as stay­ing with friends, relatives and/or acquaintances - often in unsafe housing - which makes their homelessness less visible. Due to the lack of visibility and low engagement with homelessness services, many vul­nerable women are less effectively served by home­lessness services and are more likely to be left without support as a result (Bretherton & Pleace, 2018).

Growing evidence shows that women have different pathways into homelessness and have different needs compared to men (Bretherton & Mayock, 2021). Women’s homelessness is rooted in many interrelated factors, such as gendered experience of poverty, housing market discrimination, experience of gen­der-based violence, lack of adequate and affordable housing options when escaping domestic violence, lack of women-specific support services, and expe­riences of shame and stigma. This gender-specific dimension should be integrated into our understand­ing of women’s homelessness. A gender lens, which considers the specific challenges associated with gen­der, should be part of any strategies to prevent and end women’s homelessness (FEANTSA, 2021).

This is incredibly relevant when considering Housing First supports. Housing First is a housing and support approach that provides a stable home for people who have experienced homelessness, together with intensive, person-centred, holistic support that is open-ended and unconditional. This housing-led approach can be very well integrated with gender- and trauma-in­formed approaches to care and support. In fact, these approaches are complementary and can be combined to create the appropriate set-up for women to exit homelessness and break the cycle of violence and homelessness.

Housing First is a leading, evidence-based approach to help end homelessness, designed around eight core principles that form the foundation of all Housing First services, no matter who uses them. However, recognis­ing that some people experiencing homelessness have specific needs, in some services, additional consider­ations are layered over the foundational principles to better adapt to the needs of these service users, such as for women.