Art collage made by Black and minoritised homeless survivors representing their housing aspirations
These direct casework experiences reveal a range of housing issues arising during the different stages of Black and minoritised survivors’ journeys, from leaving their abusers, moving on from refuges, to issues emerging even after they have been re-housed. This report presents findings and provides policy recommendations to address gaps and failures in housing policy and practice in relation to ‘BME’ survivors’ experiences of homelessness. The research suggests that Black and minoritised survivors are often at high risk of homelessness and re-victimization at different stages of their journeys of fleeing violence; not only at the point of exiting a violent relationship but also for an extended period thereafter. Their journeys reveal a cycle of victimisation that goes beyond the violence perpetrated by their direct abusers; their trauma is furthered by systemic and institutional failures and discrimination. The re-victimisation experienced by Black and minoritised survivors plays out not only in terms of poor welfare/housing provisions and structural sexism, but is also compounded by intersecting structures of oppression based on race, immigration status, language barriers, class and/or disability. Women have been discriminated against and re-victimised by local housing authorities not only whilst attempting to leave their abusers but also throughout their survivors’ journeys in seeking emergency refuge accommodation, making a homelessness application, moving on from refuges and even after they have been re-housed.
A temporal-spatial pattern prevails in the institutional violence Black and minoritised survivors experience whilst navigating the housing system, which could be understood as the result of the intersection of structural and slow violence (in reference to Galtung and Nixon’s conceptualisations)7 - progressively working to deteriorate their mental and physical health in potentially lethal ways. Survivors are typically made to wait unreasonable lengths of time for responses and decisions, provided with misleading information or are wrongly assessed, leaving them in a mental limbo whilst leading to further delays to relocations. As a result, many are forced to live in inadequate, unsafe or temporary accommodation or areas for longer periods.
In the context of COVID-19, the ‘structural-slow’ character of violent inaction from housing authorities may very rapidly become lethal, particularly as women are now being forced to spend more time at home with perpetrators. Women’s refuges have been struggling to receive new residents under COVID measures, whilst re-housing women due to move on from refuges has become increasingly difficult. This is clearly illustrated by the fact that during the first weeks of the lockdown the availability of refuge spaces was reduced by 50% compared to the same period in the previous year.8
It is likely that the compounded effects of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the knock-on effect of Brexit will continue to create further difficulties for women escaping violence and seeking safe and suitable accommodation. This is the case for women who have an EU passport, whilst women with insecure or undocumented immigration status, with limited or no access to public funds, face even sharper barriers. More meaningful action needs to be taken to protect survivors and ensure that no woman will be forced to endure abuse for fear of becoming homeless and destitute.
This is an adapted and shorter version of the piece ‘Colluding crises: Black and minoritised women in the midst of violence, homelessness and COVID-19’, published in the Commonweal Housing’s anthology ‘Locked Out: Barriers to housing for people facing social injustice’.
- Groups that due to their race, religious creed, nation of origin, sexuality and gender are minoritised and as a result of social constructs have less power of representation compared to other members or groups in society. This term is used as a better reflection of minoritised groups than the previously used ‘Black and Minority Ethnic’ terminology, however, we continue to use the ‘BME’ acronym hereafter for practical reasons.
- A condition imposed on a person due to their immigration status, according to which a person will not be entitled to benefits which are not based on National Insurance contributions.
- WHO (2013). Global and Regional Estimates of Violence Against Women: Prevalence and Health Effects of Intimate Partner Violence and Non-Partner Sexual Violence. World Health Organization.
- ONS (2019) ‘Domestic Abuse in England and Wales: Year Ending March 2019’. ONS.
- Imkaan (2010). Vital Statistics. London: Imkaan.
- Heimer, R. (2019). ‘A Roof, not a Home: The housing experiences of Black and minoritised women survivors of gender-based violence in London’. London: LAWA.
- See Galtung, Johan. ‘Violence, Peace, and Peace Research’. Journal of Peace Research 6, no. 3 (September 1969): 167–91, https://doi.org/10.1177/002234336900600301, and Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2011.
- Based on weekly snapshots taken from the Routes to Support database, the UK violence against women and girls service directory run by Women’s Aid Federation of Northern Ireland; Scottish Women’s Aid; Welsh Women’s Aid and Women’s Aid Federation of England.