Empowering women: addressing homelessness

A development program to support women experiencing homelessness in Cornwall.

Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, this pilot project engaged with over 34 women with lived trauma experiences and 100 organisations to create online spaces, foster multi-disciplinary connections, and facilitate empathetic conversations to tackle the issue effectively.

The challenge
This urgent need was identified through the alarming escalation of female rough sleepers in Cornwall.

Cornwall continues to rank as the rural local authority area with the highest estimated number of people sleeping rough, the most visible and dangerous form of homelessness. In 2019 it was recorded as 20-25%, well above the national average of 12-14% of people sleeping out (source: Cornwall Council, 2019).

The project aimed to provide a strategic, gendered, and trauma-informed response.

What we did
The project ran from November 2019 to June 2021, establishing a Safer Stronger Women (SSW) initiative, which created online spaces for multi-disciplinary connections and empathetic conversations.

SSC received grant funding via Homeless Link for the project, working together with Safer Cornwall partnership, Cornwall Council, Devon and Cornwall Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (DCOPCC) and Southwest Reducing Re-offending Partnership (SWRRP).

The project adopted a flexible and person-centred approach, inviting women to share their own individual survival steps in their unique circumstances. One third of the participants self-identified as homeless when they connected with the project; 30% of whom were sleeping rough at that time.

Methods of engagement included focus groups, online self-assessments, and producing anonymised case studies with women and their support workers. SSC also facilitated discussions with senior leaders in Cornwall Council and the voluntary sector.


Download the evaluation report for full details.

Trauma Informed Network Cornwall
The project led to the creation of the Trauma Informed Network Cornwall (TINC), promoting collaboration and support during the crisis. The network was established in 2020 and has grown beyond expectations, with significant buy-in from stakeholders.

Specialist interest communities of professionals have come together to co-produce a trauma-informed mandate, and to address workforce development and secondary trauma amongst practitioners, so that system change does not adversely affect the people delivering systems and services in the process.

‘Through the gate’ support
Accepting that criminalisation is a source of women’s trauma, SSW appointed delivery partner bthechange to facilitate a series of focus groups and resettlement events, in partnership with Cornwall-based VCSE providers and the staff and women within HMP Eastwood Park (EWP), a prison and young offender institution in South Gloucestershire for women aged 18 and over.

The information gathered during their consultation demonstrated a need for a transition programme at EWP for women returning to Cornwall, a finding which has been endorsed by the Ministry of Justice, National Health Service, SWRRP, Devon and Cornwall Criminal Justice Board and the Devon and Cornwall Police and Crime commissioner.

Flexible Support Fund
The Safer Stronger Women’s, ‘Flexible Support Fund’ enabled Safer Stronger Consortium (SSC) to spot purchase packages of flexible support of up to £1,200 for 31 women 55% more than SSC originally envisaged the project budget could support. This has helped to highlight the significant efficiency and effectiveness of responding specifically to women’s individual needs, as opposed to routinely offering predetermined, end-to-end programmes.

The impact of COVID-19
An already urgent situation for women became exacerbated by family and friends having to social distance, sofa surfing not continuing as people felt they could no longer move from house to house, and the loss of accommodation tied to work in the service industries.

Cornwall Council (2020) reported that, of the single homeless individuals in temporary accommodation in July 2020, 94.5% were new applicants self-identifying as rough sleepers. The pandemic also necessitated the transfer of project activities online, and significantly affected through-the-gate support at HMP Eastwood Park.

What next
To sustain the positive impact, recommendations included:

  • – Hosting information dissemination workshops
  • – Developing a fundraising strategy
  • – Expanding and embedding the Flexible Support Fund approach
  • – Involving past participants as lived experience representatives within the trauma network.

This high-profile initiative has showcased SSC’s collective capabilities and achieved a step-change in the awareness of trauma and gender-informed practices and the infrastructure that now exists to support women across Cornwall, as well as the county’s compassionate workforce.

The initiative fostered multi-disciplinary connections, co-created online spaces, and listened to women’s personal stories of trauma.

The through-the-gate support initiative and the Flexible Support Fund proved to be effective, low-cost interventions.

The establishment of TINC-facilitated trauma-informed care initiatives across Cornwall. Looking ahead, recommendations focus on sustaining and expanding the successful project outcomes.

Crucially, this project has listened to, and believed women’s personal stories of the trauma they have experienced. SSC has pioneered a simple, affordable and effective model of intervention, creating a person-centred approach to delivering pathways of support.

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