'The housing sector can help domestic abuse victims and save lives.'
Housing organisations can and should help to save the lives of domestic abuse victims, says Anthony Duerden, as he explains what his organisation is doing in the latest of our exclusive comment pieces for Alison Inman's presidential appeal.
Last year I spoke at a reception at the House of Commons to celebrate SafeNet Domestic Abuse, who are one of the companies that makes up The Calico Group.
At the event I listened to the inspirational John and Penny Clough the father and mother of Jane Clough, who was brutally murdered by her ex-partner in 2010 talk about the impact of her death. As I listened I realised that Calico now goes further than our purpose of making a difference; as an organisation we save lives
When SafeNet joined our group I knew very little about the extent of domestic abuse despite working in housing for 15 years. Six years on, I and all the team at Calico are now much more aware of the scale and impact of domestic abuse.
We have recognised that we can do more to help those at risk and we have realised that the housing sector can do a lot more. So I was delighted when I heard that Alison Inman had chosen domestic abuse as the cause for her presidency.
As well as housing we also focus on health, care and support services which are delivered by different companies in our group. This means we don’t just provide refuge accommodation, we deliver the much needed-support for domestic abuse victims too.
Since SafeNet joined the Calico Group in 2011 we have increased the number of women we can support from 25 to over 100 at any one time. It is not just the women we support, as I write this article we have almost 100 children living in our refuges.
We have increased the amount of accommodation over the last five years because we know thousands of women get turned away from refuge services each year. Our refuge services are always full and by doing more there is no doubt we have saved lives.
We now run five women’s refuges and have also added 11 safehouses to our services. This year we opened our first male safehouse, which is the only one in Lancashire. We have continued to do more, this year we opened our latest refuge called Jane’s Place which we built ourselves which provide 15 self-contained flats for women escaping domestic abuse.
Jane’s Place is a Recovery Refuge, developed by SafeNet and the Calico Group to deliver safe refuge to women and children with additional and complex needs. The facility opened in July 2017 and was filled within three weeks.
For many years, SafeNet had been unable to accept referrals for women (and their children) with highly complex needs (drug or alcohol dependency; mental health; criminal offending history or a combination of those needs) into our communal generic refuges. The impact of those with high complex needs and subsequent behaviours was too great. Through a lack of appropriate provision, many of the most vulnerable women and children remained in high risk, dangerous homes unable to find a place of safety away from abuse.
In the first three months, we had 111 referrals for Jane’s Place, with:
- 111 referrals to the 15 units
- 106 with drug and/or alcohol needs
- 71 with higher level mental health needs
- 16 with sexual abuse/trauma
The work is extremely complex and challenging and even more so as it is a unique service – there is nobody to copy from. We don’t expect the issues to disappear and it will take time to get the service where we need it to be. We know we will apply our learning positively and adapt.
We are able to support the complex needs as we have substance misuse services in the group. The work follows a Housing First model. It allows us to make a massive difference to the lives of our customers and make a significant contribution to our other public sector organisations.
Making things happen
We deliver services dealing with the challenges that we face which include
- Managing a brand new service supporting women with complex and challenging issues
- Managing a service with too much demand which results in too many referrals and unrealistic expectations of commissioners
- Uncertain support funding which means you are constantly reviewing where the income will come from in the future including the uncertainty around Local Housing Allowance
We are confident enough to deal with these complex issues as we have staff who have significant personal experience of living with and supporting women with these issues. For example, we employ at least 70 recovering drug and alcohol addicts across our group and we know that we employ a significant number of women who have suffered from domestic abuse.
We know the risks of proving these services but we also understand the risk of these services closing or not being set up. As an organisation we can quantify the financial risk and we know this is affordable.
What can you do?
I do agree with Alison Inman that housing organisations can do more to tackle domestic abuse.
There will be local refuge services at the risk of closing or unable to do more due to uncertain funding, loss of contracts, properties with a lack of investment and an inability to take risk. We don’t just work with SafeNet, we now support another local charity to provide additional safehouses in other areas. Ask what you can do to help them, provide them support around benefits, take some of the risk around rents, improve the quality of accommodation. By supporting them, you will help them to save lives.
Provide support to staff as it is very likely you will have employees suffering from domestic abuse working for you. As our organisation’s awareness of domestic abuse has increased, we have found ourselves supporting a number of staff who are victims.
At Calico we have already making things happen, such as
- Going from managing one refuge to five – two in Burnley and also in Lancaster, Preston and Rochdale
- Opening 11 safehouses
- Opening our first male safehouse
- Working with perpetrators through our drug and alcohol rehabilitation services
- Opening of Jane’s Place
- Looking for opportunities to build new refuges in other areas
- Reviewed our letting processes to reduce obstacles to obtaining a tenancy for victims of domestic abuse
I would ask that you take some time to encourage your organisation to do more, I am convinced that the housing sector has the skills, experience and resources to help save more lives.
Anthony Duerden is chief executive of The Calico Group.
- Alison Inman is raising awareness of domestic abuse and supporting Women's Aid during her presidential year - read more.