Social Platform co-hosts virtual study visit on “Housing First for Women”

On the 14th of September 2020, Social Platform hosted a study visit, co-organised with the Sozialdienst katholischer Frauen e.V. in Berlin, Germany entitled “Housing First for Women: Chance. Choice. Commitment.“ 

21 participants from EU and national level civil society organisations active in the field, representatives from various national ministries of social affairs and representatives from the European Commission joined the virtual visit. 

During the study visit, the pilot project “Housing First for Women” in Berlin was presented. In the 3-year pilot phase, up to 40 single homeless women can be accepted into the project. Currently, 31 previously homeless women have their own rental contract and live in their own apartments, while 300 women applied to participate in the project. Housing First for Women supports and empowers women: all women can rent their own home and voluntary additional support is offered by Housing First for Women. 

Charlotte Riepe, Social Worker and responsible for public relations in connection with apartment acquisition for Housing First for Women gave a general introduction of the different support services for homeless women provided by the organisation, including other support activities undertaken, such as a day care centre “Evas Haltestelle”, with space for 40-50 women where they can relax, get meals etc, winter emergency shelters, emergency shelters throughout the year as well as intensive psychosocial counselling services. 

Brigitte Triems, President of the Demokratischer Frauenbund e. V. (Democratic Women’s Union) introduced the background of the development of the Housing First for Women project. She explained the need for a gender-specific project for women, as women with high support needs can experience homelessness differently than men and do not use and access services the same way. They also face greater levels of sexual abuse and greater levels of stigmatisation as well as multiple forms of vulnerability. She also highlighted how Housing First is more efficient than other approaches that require the resolution of certain problems that homeless people might face before they are considered “housing ready”. For Housing First for Women in Berlin, housing is a fundamental right for all that should not have to be earned by solving individual problems or other criteria.

Then, participants watched a video about Housing First for Women, containing the thoughts and perspectives of a former homeless woman that is now renting her own apartment, a Housing First for Women social worker, a staff member responsible for finding apartments, a landlady and the person responsible for project evaluation.

Stefanie Albig, Social Worker at Housing First for Women outlined several key aspects of the project. The project accepts every single woman who identifies as a woman, from any background and any difficulties. The women who participate in the project are the drivers of their own process with regards to receiving support to tackle certain issues and determine the steps and the speed of the process as well. 

Charlotte Riepe then further described the process of housing acquisition for the project, which is one of the biggest challenges, as the project staff need to find landlords willing to rent their flats to women in the framework of the project. Several collaborations with landlords have been collected but the hope is to secure more landlords who make their apartments available, especially state-owned ones.

Brigitte Triems highlighted her wishes for the future, stating that in the EU, no one should have to live on the street. She highlighted the importance of Housing First being integrated into a strategic approach to homelessness, together with other dimensions. To reduce homelessness, Housing First projects need to be included into broader housing strategies, to provide quick access to housing, improve prevention of homelessness etc. She also highlighted the need of a German national homelessness strategy to combat and prevent homelessness, as it exists in some other EU countries. 

Following these presentations, the floor was opened for a Question and & Answer session with participants. Questions and discussions focused on the financing of projects such as this one, issues related to the collaboration with public local authorities responsible for housing, issues related to finding medical and psychological support for people outside of the project as many professionals lack an understanding of the Housing First approach and Housing First practices, including gender-specific ones for women across Europe, among other topics.

More information about the project and contact information of the project staff can be found on their website (in German): https://skf-berlin.de/offene-sozialarbeit/wohnungslose-frauen/housing-first-fuer-frauen/