No home or abusive home? The life or death decision.

Silhouette of a woman walking down some steps to leave a building

Recently we spotted a great story about three survivors of domestic abuse who began a furniture project to provide women with furnishings who might have lost their possessions as a result of fleeing a violent home.

These women turned their horrific experiences into something positive to help others. This resonates with us and our belief that it’s possible for everyone to move on, in a way that’s personal to them. Moving on doesn’t mean forgetting, but it does mean coping. There is a link between domestic abuse and homelessness among women. It’s that simple.

Therefore, it might not be surprising that throughout the time of lockdown, visits to the Refuge website rose by 950%. The volume of calls to its helpline increased by two thirds. [1] As of 3rd July this year, 61 women had been killed in the UK in 2020 as a result of domestic abuse.[2]

For some women, leaving an abusive home means living without a home – a life or death decision.

But what next?

One of the main challenges that women fleeing domestic abuse face is the ‘vulnerability test’. This a test that some local authorities use to decide who can access accommodation and who can’t. Some women aren’t seen to be more vulnerable than others seeking accommodation because they technically still have a ‘home’… even if it’s an abusive one.

For some women, leaving an abusive home means living without a home – a life or death decision.

However, in more positive news, in May 2020, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, said that domestic abuse victims will get “priority need status”, to access local housing services under the Domestic Abuse Bill.[3] This should mean that people fleeing domestic abuse will have a better chance of accessing accommodation.

Currently, the Bill is making its way through the House of Lords before it becomes law and will be life-changing for many women.

Homeless Oxfordshire’s Women’s Only Project

Homeless Oxfordshire provides housing-related support. Through our accommodation, our focus is on ensuring people have a safe space to recover from homelessness and build their capability to move on and live independently. This is particularly important for the clients that live in our Women Only House. This is not a refuge but does accommodate women who may have experienced domestic abuse and we fully support this government bill.

Through experience, we find that women who have faced domestic abuse find it easier to talk to women than men, which is why we try to ensure that the women we help in our Women’s’ Project are allocated a female key worker. We also encourage the women in our project to develop their own programmes of activities.

Claire, one of our Housing Resettlement Workers said:

All of the clients from the Women’s project have experienced Domestic Violence at some point in their lives. Part of what we try to do is support them in their recovery away from Domestic Violence and to build their self-esteem, confidence and self-worth, working towards autonomy and self-empowerment. We also encourage them to link to relevant services. This will only work when they are ready, but working with them within our project hopefully eases the way for them to link to specialised support.”

Lucy, resident in our Women’s’ Project said:

Jenny’s on hand every day. I feel like she doesn’t judge. She knows what I struggle with, I can be completely honest with her. She knows my weaknesses, she knows what I can do to help myself. She just understands. It’s so good to have her as a constant presence”.

Part of what we try to do is support them in their recovery away from Domestic Violence and to build their self-esteem, confidence and self-worth”

The challenges that the women in our Women’s Project have faced

Domestic violence causes long‐lasting emotional and physical health problems. [4] The women we accommodate and support have complex needs ranging from: family and relationship breakdown, offending behaviour, bereavement, substance misuse, sexual exploitation, domestic violence, childhood trauma and/or self-harm. This isn’t an exhaustive list and there are many other factors that can cause barriers to someone’s recovery. We work closely with these women to help them develop strategies for coping, including managing anxiety.

The challenges for us

For us, the problem isn’t about deciding which women are ‘priority need’,  all our clients are a priority. The main challenge for us is to ensure that we continue to attract donations and funding so that we can carry on offering our vital services.

This is why we were delighted to receive £1000 from the Police Property Act Fund which helps us to provide a holistic trauma-informed approach. It means we can structure care plans that are tailored to the individual. We depend on funding such as this to continue our work. Hear from our CEO, Claire Dowan here.

Homeless Oxfordshire case study

📽️ Claire Dowen, Chief Executive of Homeless Oxfordshire, discusses how funding received from the Police Property Act Fund has supported their work with the #Homeless in Oxford.You can view the full Adobe Spark case study at

Posted by Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley on Thursday, 3 September 2020

To find out more about our Women’s Project, please get in touch with us at

Find out about two of the women we have helped by clicking here.

If you need to speak to someone about domestic abuse, there are many resources available: