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The Homeless Fund: Charities see surge in women seeking refuge from abuse

Study finds 93 per cent of female service users had experienced domestic abuse ‘sometimes’ or ‘often’

Friday 20 December 2019 10:51 GMT
The Homeless Fund: Cat's story

Domestic violence charities in London are seeing a surge in the number of women seeking refuge from abusive relationships and do not have enough safe spaces to shelter them all.

A study by Homeless Link, an umbrella organisation for smaller homeless charities and a founding member of the London Homeless Collective, found 93 per cent of female service users had experienced domestic abuse “sometimes” or “often”.

But projects helping victims of violence in the home say demand for support, counselling and refuges is rocketing as council services are cut. Now, two leading charities, also both LHC founders, say this surge means a 24-hour women’s shelter funded through The Independent’s appeal is vital.

Cases seen by Solace Women’s Aid have risen from 15,085 in 2015 to 22,816 this year, with more than £9.5m spent by the charity, while Connection at St Martin’s saw female client numbers double.

Homeless charities’ frontline staff are finding more women rough sleepers in acute distress from conditions that would previously have seen them being cared for in special units, which have seen a reduction in bed numbers.

Gill Herd, from Solace Women’s Aid, said they have seen “massive demand” in recent years for its services, which also welcomes transgender service users. Girls as young as 13 are seeking help, and their oldest client is over 100.

Ms Herd said: “Demand has gone up as a lot of cuts have been made to local services across London.”

Services range from advice lines to counselling and anonymous safe houses. On average, women are in abusive relationships for six years – suffering an average of 35 attacks – before seeking help from Solace Women’s Aid.

Data collated by the charity shows 29 London women were killed through domestic violence last year, compared with nine the previous year.

Pam Orchard, the chief executive of Connection at St Martin’s, said: “If you are a vulnerable woman, walking into services like ours can sometimes be an intimidating experience because it’s very dominated by men. We cannot continue to run services in the way we are when the proportion of women as part of the rough sleeping population has increased so markedly.”

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