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Simon’s new service

December 09 2011
 We look at the Community’s new service for women rough sleepers

 

Homeless charity The Simon Community has launched a new group for women rough sleepers.

The project aims to provide a safe, female-only place for women to come and relax - with the long term aim of helping women “explore their wants, needs and options, without pressure.”

Simon Community Director Bob Baker said: “The opportunity to have some safe space and respite from what is a permanent state of stress is invaluable in engaging women and working towards providing opportunities for self-determination rather than imposing solutions.”

The scheme, set up by female volunteers in Westminster, is supported by the Queen Mary’s Hostel for women.

It was created in response to “the widely acknowledged needs of women sleeping rough in central London,” said Mr Baker.

He added: “While it is not difficult to make a case for the need for such services - women are often literally and metaphorically elbowed out of the way in many services for homeless people. It is therefore more of a challenge actually to develop appropriate specialist provision.”

Women volunteers from the Simon Community form the core of the group and homeless women are invited to join on an equal basis.

Duncan Shrubsole, Director of Policy and External Affairs at Crisis, said: “Our research has proven that homeless women are particularly vulnerable and face different challenges to homeless men. “One of the key recommendations that came out of this research was that there should be more specialist provision for homeless women. We therefore welcome a new service opening in Westminster to help them off the streets and hopefully on to a better life.”

The Simon Community has a founding principle of not accepting government funding, which Mr Baker said makes them free to offer a “different approach to other more outcome-orientated services.”

He added: “In the initial stage we are hoping to attract a group of women for whom we can simply provide a place of safety where they can relax.

“As they get to know the volunteers they will be able to explore their wants, needs and options without pressure. We hope to be able to provide an alternative to the target and process driven approach which has not always proved to be successful with this group.”

Janet Haddington, the Head of Rough Sleeping Commissioning Strategy at Westminster City Council, added: “Women who live on the streets are under-represented in the general rough sleeping population in Westminster.

“However, they are over-represented in the group of rough sleepers who have been living on the streets the longest. This is a real cause for concern because their health, both physical and mental, deteriorates rapidly with age and we are desperate to find new and creative ways of assisting them off the streets and into accommodation that would be tailored to their needs.

“The Project introduced by the Simon Community is innovative and welcomed. We will assist and support the Project in whatever ways are considered helpful to securing the desired outcomes which is to end the need for any women to feel their only option is to live on the streets.”

The group held its first meeting at the end of July, which saw the project get off to a “really good start,” said Mr Baker.

One woman attendee said it was the first time in eight months that she had been able to spend time in a women-only space.

Miranda Keast, Soup Run Outreach Worker at The Passage, said: “I think the Simon Community’s new women’s group is a fantastic development. It’s an excellent example of how partnership working and sharing of resources can produce a new initiative that meets a genuine need and I am confident that many vulnerable people will benefit from it.”

Jeremy Swain, Chief Executive of Thames Reach, added: “This is an exciting new initiative that the Simon Community has embarked on to meet the needs of homeless women.

“It is especially impressive that the Simon Community is able to engage with particularly vulnerable and complex women who have often had difficulty engaging with other services. “ The safe, supportive environment offered is a far cry from the harshness of life on the street and I wish the Simon Community every success in helping women rough sleepers escape the tribulations of homelessness for good.”

If you have any questions or would like further information about the group, please email women@simoncommunity.org.uk or phone Rosie on 020 7485 6639.

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