Policies shaping assertive outreach with those experiencing homelessness have long lacked gendered and cultural inclusivity in approach or application. This has resulted in responses that are inherently focused on the visible, and hence male, experience of crisis and related housing impact(s). It has also resulted in a fundamental gap in female focused understandings of the practices that can (and should) underpin effective assertive outreach for women experiencing homelessness.
In response, Nova for Women and Children, in collaboration with the University of Newcastle, have sought the wisdom of women and their workers in designing a specialist assertive outreach program for women experiencing homelessness in the Hunter region of New South Wales. Lessons learned highlight assertive outreach with women experiencing homelessness should intentionally focus on targeted engagement to build relational rapport, trust, and safety. Acknowledging the acute and often complex experiences of trauma for women with chronic or cyclic experiences of homelessness, women and their workers argue assertive outreach needs to be flexible in providing the type of support women want, where and when they are ready, especially in the context of often inflexible policy parameters.
Women and workers noted policy and programme responses can be re-traumatising for women seeking to exit homelessness, often through their lack of responsiveness and sensitivity to experiences and circumstances that contextualise homelessness, especially for women. Stories of women experiencing homelessness and the workers who support them add to and enhance evidence for practice by emphasising voices that have been notably missing from the existing evidence base.