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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Her story: Sister act

© Jean Hindry & Mat Amp © Jean Hindry & Mat Amp
Being homeless messes up everything, which is why Samantha Love argues that looking after yourself – in the right way – has to be your priority

When people talk about homeless women, the conversation will often focus on the stereotype of the addict or sex worker living on the street and turning tricks for the price of a fix. Advice on safety is usually boiled down to a few extreme safety measures aimed at saving you from abuse, sexual assault or death.

For every woman in this position, there are many more women in temporary accommodation, perhaps in hostels with other men, or bed and breakfasts with kids. These women live an invisible existence, in limbo, waiting for a change that never comes. Without a safe and secure place to live, they are homeless. These temporary housing situations can often feel unsafe. They may lack privacy and even basic comfort. This situation can be even more harrowing when there are children involved.

Sally (name changed to protect identity), a woman in her 50s who has worked for St Mungo's for 10 years, shared her experiences of being homeless and working with homeless people. “I understand trauma and about the way people have coping mechanisms, they've got learnt behaviour that isn't really helping them to move on. For example, people can sabotage opportunities and that keeps them stuck in abusive lifestyles."

What she’s saying is that in order for people to value themselves, they need first and foremost to unlearn patterns of behaviour before they can move forward. As part of her role as a case worker, Sally says that St Mungo's encourage their female clients to do “constructive, engaging stuff, like cooking or hairdressing. It's about encouraging them to have healthy relationships and normality.”


Feel like a woman

It is important to try and regain feelings of self-worth, writes Samantha Love. For the women in hostels my advice is to work on yourself:

• Yoga, fitness, CBT and education.
• If you have kids then you can educate yourself via the internet, clubs, groups.
• Try and find groups for women on benefits.
• Get out there. Meet people, even if you think you’re not worth it. Safety for women has to start with bolstering yourself.

 You could argue that there is a spectrum that starts with your self-esteem at one end and your personal safety at the other. It’s all about looking after yourself, whether that is half-an-hour of yoga in the morning or not following a psychopath down a dark alley so he can cut your throat.

“The types of abuse in hostels can range from financial to sexual. It’s about not getting involved in dynamics. Also talk to staff when you have a problem,” adds Sally.

She also advises making sure you assess risk and act upon it. “Just be aware to let people know where you are going, what time you'll be back, carry a rape alarm, condoms of course. If you have a gut feeling that someone is a bit dodgy, don’t go with them.” Take care out there girls, and always remember you are worth it. Not because l’Oreal cosmetics said you are, but because you really are. We’re all women and we’re all sisters.

 

The purgatory of homelessness

by Samantha Love

It’s misplaced, misunderstood,
Mamma on the frontline, mamma in the hood
Purgatory so far from heaven, too close to hell,
Stuck in the middle,
No ears to hear you yell,
Limbo to put it mildly,
Been there, lived that longest day,
Endless road, with no righter way,
A ghostly existence,
The only shadow is your own.

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