Women’s Direct Access is a large 32 bed hostel for single women needing emergency accommodation. Opened about 30 years ago the building was in desperate need of updating and there was a need to think about the services provided. The current model was developed based on women staying there for a few days. The reality now is that it is home for months for some women due to the lack of suitable alternative accommodation. The Council who run the service had already identified these issues and secured some funding to do up the building. It was then decided to bring the redesign under the umbrella of the Homelessness Charter. This has made a big difference, strengthening the partnership approach to the project and ensuring homeless women are fully involved.
The first meeting of the group was attended by 5 current residents, 4 former residents from the “Women’s Voices” group, 5 staff, and representatives from a range of agencies including MASH, Women’s Aid, Riverside Housing. Urban Village Medical Practise, Inspiring Change Manchester and the City Council.
At the meeting we agreed that this group should be by and for women. We made a commitment to work co productively using the “Women’s Voices” group to ensure the voices of residents, current, former and potential were heard. We also agreed that we were working to create a “Psychologically Informed Environment”, or PIE.
We decided to have four sub groups:
- Building – physical layout/ decoration etc.
- Activities/ volunteering : – to ensure a range of services, activities and volunteering opportunities are in place as soon as the project reopens
- Food: This was identified as an extremely important and complex issue needing its own group.
- PIE: To ensure a clear action plan is in place, training identified etc.
We also recognised the need to look at wider issues of women’s homelessness, why do women need an emergency hostel, why do they stay there for so long and what services are needed to improve this?
Progress so far
The building group has met and agreed all of the changes that need to be made. These will range from a redesigned reception area with a much more open feel to making sure that bedroom doors close quietly so women aren’t kept awake all night. There will be a range of multipurpose spaces that can be used to deliver services and activities.
The Women’s Voices Group are planning a creative peer research event in September which will help inform the next stage of the work.
This is a big project with a lot more work to do. When we began talking about the project a lot of former resident had very distressing memories of their time in Direct Access and the staff were clearly struggling with working in such a rundown space. Since then the progress on working together, the key role played by women with experience of homelessness and the positivity from everyone has been inspiring.
Find out more and support the charter at charter.streetsupport.net.