In early 2006 WISHIN (Women’s Information Support and Housing in the North) was approached by North East Housing Service (NEHS) who were concerned about the number of single women over 35, without dependents who were ringing their service for assistance and whom they were unable to assist. When discussed it was felt that such women would be unlikely to be assisted through the Supported Accommodation Assistance Program (SAAP) because, as low needs women, they did not represent target groups.
WISHIN agreed to work on the issue. Before WISHIN could propose solutions however, we needed to understand both how prevalent the problem might be and more about the women who were being ‘turned away’. A Steering Group of consumers reflecting the cohort and the agencies involved was formed to drive the work and a project worker, Dr Andrea Sharam was assigned the task of managing the research task. With the assistance of the Helen MacPherson Smith Trust, the Reichstein Foundation and the E.M. Horton Family the project set out to ‘test demand’, and find out more about these women. This report provides the result of this research.
The assumption that underpinned the work was that service rationing and tight eligibility requirements meant that certain women were unlikely to receive assistance. If their issue was housing affordability rather than personal characteristics/needs then they were likely to miss out on services. Being poor is insufficient reason to be granted housing support. As service providers WISHIN and NEHS worried that such currently ‘unmet demand’ could manifest itself later as clients in their target groups – that is, those who are high needs such as those with drug, alcohol or mental health issues, or who have experienced domestic violence.
WISHIN and NEHS wondered about the bias against poverty (as opposed to personal characteristics) that pervades thinking on eligibility when women’s earning capacity is significantly less than men’s. The Steering Group wondered what these women did when they couldn’t get assistance. Anecdotal cases suggested gender mattered. This led the Steering Group to consider if women have different adaptation strategies to men when it came to housing security and homelessness, and whether this meant women did not identify as homeless, and are not identified as homeless by most researchers, funding bodies and services, when they should be?