Women and Homelessness | A Chat with Housing First for Women
Every year, the 25th November marks the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. For us, this is an occasion to address the issue of women and homelessness. After all, violence and the loss of a home are often closely linked. We talked to Lara Weins, team leader and social worker at Housing First for Women, a project of the Social Service of Catholic Women (Sozialdienst katholischer Frauen e.V.), about how they are connected and how women without a fixed abode can be supported best.
The most important information of the interview can be found here in the article. You can also watch a compact version of the interview on our Instagram channel.
Table of Content
What is Housing First for women?
The Housing First project for women was launched in 2018. Since its founding, the 7-member team has supported women in getting their own roof over their heads and living a self-determined life within their own 4 walls. Through their work, the team has already been able to place 52 participants (assisted homeless women) back into their own housing and is currently assisting 12 more on their way there. In addition, there are already over 250 interested women on their waiting list. The demand in Berlin alone is enormous.
Women and Homelessness
According to estimates by the BAG W, the proportion of women among homeless people in Germany is around 33 percent. Yet they are generally much less observable than men. This is due to the fact that they try to hide their situation. Instead, they spend the night at friends’ houses or, unfortunately, enter into precarious dependencies (e.g., violent relationships) in order to avoid ending up on the streets. This is understandable, because without a safe space to retreat, they would be unprotected and exposed to discrimination and sexualized violence.
In order to escape life on the streets, many women live in special-purpose communities in which, for example, sexual availability is exchanged for accommodation. As a result, they seek help late and the problems are then very complex.Housing First for women
This phenomenon is called hidden homelessness. The affected women often fall outside the scope of support services and are also more difficult to reach through the usual channels (food distributions, approaching people on the street). At the same time, the need for support is already very high due to the fact that they have often been homeless for a long time. Financial or psychological problems accumulate, possibly aggravated by violence or by addictions associated with the situation. This is exactly where the Housing First offer for women comes in.
What does the organization offer women without shelter?
The primary goal of the project is to get women back into their own housing with their own housing lease. On their way there, the participants are accompanied by the Housing First team. This consists of social workers, a coordinator for public relations, housing acquisition, and a psychologist. If necessary, a lawyer is also consulted.
They provide support for applications, trips to authorities, the housing search, moving in or relearning a structured daily routine within their own four walls. Psychological support for the participants is also enormously important in order to find a way to deal with what they have experienced and to accompany them in the long term into a self-determined life.
Self-determination comes first
It is part of the Housing First principles that the participants themselves are also self-determined in the process of finding housing, and that they are also allowed to reject apartments that are offered – while avoiding sanctions. After all, this is precisely what it is all about: helping the women to lead a self-determined life. There is no time limit for the support, so that the participants are offered a secure framework for a sustainable and stable situation.
The demand is quite mixed. We are still in contact with the first participant from 2018. Some want regular everyday support, others get in touch every 2-3 months whenever they receive a letter from the Job Center and need advice.Lara Weins, team leader at Housing First for women
Housing shortage as greatest challenge
In addition to the psychological and health difficulties of the participants, the scarcity of housing is particularly what makes the work most difficult. For this reason, one person is working full-time to acquire housing and is actively seeking cooperation with private landlords. If you have access to rentable housing and would like to participate in the project, please contact the team here.
Success speaks for itself
The success of the project is demonstrated by its evaluation: 100% of all participants are still in the apartments they were placed in and their living situation has improved significantly in a number of areas, including health, satisfaction and social life. For this reason, the project is expected to continue, and homeless mothers with children will also be accepted in the future. And internationally, the project is already getting attention at international conferences, e.g. in Dublin and Madrid.
Housing First for women introduces itself
To get a visual impression of the project and its work, we recommend you to take a look at this report:
Here’s how you can support Housing First for women
The project is currently in the process of putting together a team of volunteers to accompany (former) homeless women in their daily lives. The project is looking for female volunteers only.
If you would like to join, you can help the participants with handicrafts, moving in, errands and transportations. Or you can accompany them on leisure activities to get to know their new neighborhood. Simply contact the Housing First Berlin team.
We hope you enjoy your volunteer with Housing First for Women!
Your vostel.de Team
I would really love to be part in the volunteer work
It’s great to hear that you would love to support the Housing First project. However, you need advanced German language skills in order to support them. In case you look for volunteering opportunities with less German skills, you can have a look at our website: https://vostel.de/en/volunteering/projects and filter by language skills. We wish you a joyful volunteering expierence!
Sebastian & your team from vostel.de