Saturday, 20 March 2010


have just come across, and a post with the stunning title: We need to abolish, not "re-evaluate," domestic violence shelters. So good to read the kind of critique of DV organisations that i've been craving (though I have read a related piece, Disloyal to Feminism: Abuse of Survivors within the Domestic Violence Shelter System, by Koyama in the incredible Incite! anthology, Color of Violence which you totally need to read if you are interested in this stuff). In the linked blog post she says:
"There will always be a need for safe haven, but I don’t feel that our domestic violence shelters provides it. I think that we need to be deeply suspicious of the coupling of housing, supervision, and emotional support: while social services in general tend to be paternalistic, the concentration of various competing interests and roles into one entity (the agency) as we often see in domestic violence shelters breeds abuse."
It's kind of mindbending to me to see this stated in so many words, but i can't disagree. In the refuge part of the service i work for, the same workers are supposed to give emotional support as collect rent. When i arrived seven years ago they were called 'refuge workers' and their main role was advocacy - helping with forms and phonecalls, supporting women to deal with social services etc, plus emotional support. now they are called 'housing support workers' and 'property management' is part of their job description. they have to cap the gas and do maintenance checks and chase rent. there are a million more forms to fill in now so of course they don't have anything like the same amount of time for supporting women practically and emotionally. they have to spend a lot of time writing warning letters to residents who are in arrears, and the support and advocacy role just cannot work when the same person is the property manager. i wonder how many people reading this would be shocked by this change in roles. to us within the organisation it now seems normal.

i agree with Koyama that there was no golden age of refuge provision where they were accessible spaces. i am sure that those early, radically feminist refuges were insitutions that were massively inaccessible and unsafe for women of colour and disabled women, if they were admitted at all (hence groups like Imkaan* setting up refuges for women of colour). Koyama tells horror stories in Disloyal to Feminism about conditions and professional practice in the USA (i really want to talk more about that article in another post) and i hope i'm not being totally naive to say i think things are a bit better here. i know that 'Supporting People', while it is Wrong in so many ways, has dragged reluctant and sulking refuges towards implementing equal opportunities stuff and 'consulting service users' and so on. we have been dragged out of our white-feminist, ableist past however the process that has forced this change is government co-optation and the abandonment of activism or even much analysing/critiquing of policy. plus refuges are still often unsafe and inaccessible for LGBTQ women in the UK; Supporting People seems to have missed that one!

Koyama continues:
"In my opinion, the best solution to this problem is to decouple housing: employ housing first approach to help survivors find an apartment in the community first, with long-term rent assistance of course, and then deal with other issues. People might argue that some women desperately need support and supervision to be available 24/7, but anyone who have worked at our shelters know that such women are first to be evicted from shelters because of the difficulty of complying with all the rules and living in a crowded shared housing setting, because shelters are not designed to adequately support women with such needs. Perhaps we could adopt disability rights movement’s principle of independent living here: survivors should be assisted in the least restrictive environment each individual can handle, which to most survivors and their children would be their own apartment."
Well, in the UK there is a steady move towards survivors living in their own self-contained unit, the old hostel-style shared facilities are viewed as old-fashioned and unsuitable and are being phased out around the country. It doesn't seem to be too hard for orgs to get grants to make over the accommodation. And increasing numbers of refuges now have 24/7 staff support so e.g. you have a block of apartments with staff and security on site.

And 'Supporting People' has also massively raised standards around services being accessible for women 'with complex support needs' - what Koyama describes about these women being refused admission or evicted certainly was happening here five or more years back. back then i was a helpline worker and i'd hear outrageous responses from refuges when i called round trying to find 'bedspace': one that sticks in my mind is when somewhere wouldn't take a woman because she was on antidepressants. i think they thought that meant she was mad and thus a liability. anyhow, you don't hear that kind of thing anymore. if a bedspace is empty and a woman is not admitted, the reason for the decision must now be put in writing. Supporting People will audit it all and withhold funding if refuges are found to be discriminating. it is no longer very difficult to find bedspace for a woman/family who uses drugs/alcohol or who has mental health issues. racism and ableism will still exist, of course, within refuges, and organisations and their workers will find other less blatant ways of discriminating. but it is getting so much harder to get away with and residents have much more recourse to appeal and complain if they are oppressed by the organisation.

i completely agree though that survivors should be offered "the least restrictive environment they can handle", and that this will be different for every woman/family. but the much better provision for women 'with complex needs' has come hand in hand with much closer surveillance, e.g. taking the national insurance number of every resident (and moving towards taking such details of everyone who even calls asking for space). depends what we mean by 'restrictive' i suppose.

*tried to put a link here but their website has disappeared? does anyone know if something's happened to Imkaan?

No comments:

Post a Comment