Women in trouble with the law may find themselves declared intentionally homeless, deemed ineligible for housing, or cut off housing benefit and evicted for rent arrears. Without a home, it is much harder to; get a job or into a training placement, register with a GP and access health care, arrange benefits and to care for children. A lack of suitable housing can be a cause of offending, a homeless woman may commit a crime out of desperation to have a roof over her head, albeit a police station or prison cell.
After a sentence, 60 percent of women leaving prison are leaving to no fixed abode (NFA). The lack of secure accommodation upon release is one the main issues that leads to re offending. Accommodation is one of the ‘nine pathways’ officially recognised by the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) as key to reducing reoffending for women. It is identified by people who offend as second only to employment in improving their chances of resettlement. On day one of a lady leaving prison, she is expected to report to probation, drug and alcohol services and the job centre. Each can be a tough task, so all three together must be daunting for someone who at the end of their first day out of prison is homeless or having to stay at a hostel. If a woman leaves prison and end up staying at a hostel, she faces the task of navigating a male dominated setting often over run with drugs and exploitation. All these factors lead to a revolving cycle of relapse and reoffending, a cycle that we find over time wears a woman down to the point of no hope.
Access to safe accommodation is commonly identified by women in prison as a top priority for successful resettlement. We recognise that without a home, many women don’t stand a chance and the cycle continues over and over unabated. The Phoenix Project is a housing program we launched to specifically support women leaving prison.
Lotus Sanctuary liaises closely with nationwide prison resettlement teams to provide Supported Accommodation specifically for women leaving prison with No Fixed Abode (NFA).
The Phoenix project provides women with a safe and secure environment with wrap around support. We understand that where a person lives has a direct impact on their mental, physical and emotional health and wellbeing. During the Covid-19 nationwide lock down our referrals team only got busier. At the height of the pandemic one of our major property investment partners offered us a property in Leicester, a 5-bedroom, high specification HMO in a beautifully appointed setting. With the referrals mounting, we signed a lease after a quick viewing and in April 2020 the pilot for this project commenced in Leicester. After the early success of this project, Lotus has sought to acquire more properties specifically for this purpose. We currently have homes and apartments in Derby, Stoke, Middlesbrough and Sunderland for prison leavers.
We aim to end the cycle of re offending by picking women up at the gates and offering a solution from day one. A Lotus Sanctuary member of staff will pick the resident up on the day of release, take them to all necessary appointments and drop them off to a home, where they’ll be met with warmth by a support worker. The support worker and resident are then given time to talk and develop a support plan. A far cry from leaving prison alone, having to attend all necessary appointments and then ending up in a hostel. We aim to create a feeling of hope and we aim to fill our residents with the confidence to move forward in their lives. We offer a two year stay to residents, in which we aim to equip them with the skills necessary to live independently. Our support ethos for prison leavers is the 3 R’s – resettlement, recovery and reintegration. Resettlement into a homely setting, recovery from ongoing issues and reintegration into society through support.
Ruth Skillern who directs the phoenix project says the following “ When I did my first “Through the gate” pick up, I was astounded at how much a prison leaver is expected to do on her day of release. How many appointments she is expected to attend and failure to attend can lead to instant recall to prison. These appointments can be from one side of town to another. Sometimes all they will leave prison with a travel pass and the clothes that they went in with. Very often a woman will have no money, ID or phone making these tasks almost unachievable.
I believe that with the support that the Phoenix Project offers we can give these women a chance at resettlement and the tools to start again and rebuild their lives, without falling at the first hurdle.
We at Lotus understand that it is not just the accommodation that is important but also the continued support during their time with Lotus that is vital. Accommodation and support must go hand in hand. We aim to make these women feel that they are worthy and deserve a chance in life.
One of my ladies who has come through the Phoenix Project said..
“It has been a long time since anyone has treated me like a human being.””
Annie our referrals manager adds “I firmly believe that our Phoenix Project provides the bridge between homelessness and community resettlement. We have already witnessed that women in prison that have a home to go to upon release results in a reduced anxiety level and decreased risk of reoffending. We believe in these women when they don’t believe in themselves and we will continue to do this until every single prison leaver has a place to call home. This project offers females the sense of empowerment, self-esteem, self-confidence and motivation, and our wrap around support only backs this further. The increase in referrals that we are receiving every day is a challenge to say the least, but knowing that people and prisons have the trust and belief in what we do makes my job so much easier.”
This is one of project we are keen to continue and expand, as again the need for accommodation outweighs the current supply. Working with our investor partners and private landlords we are confident at meeting the demand and to continue offering female prison leavers a place to call home.