Matching domestic abuse survivors with host families in an innovative alternative accommodation scheme

IDAS – Safe Havens Hosted Accommodation

Independent Domestic Abuse Services (IDAS) is a Yorkshire based charity that has been supporting victims of domestic abuse for over 40 years. IDAS started out as York Women’s Refuge, just a two-bedroom flat donated by a local businessman. Since then, IDAS has grown and merged with other specialist charities to become the largest specialist charity in the region. In addition to refuge accommodation, IDAS provide community-based support to thousands of people every year.

Refuge accommodation typically provides women escaping domestic abuse a port of safety, living in communal accommodation with the support of domestic abuse specialists. However, refuge accommodation doesn’t meet everyone’s needs. By listening to the voices of survivors, IDAS identified that there was a need for short term, respite accommodation that could give people breathing space to make decisions whilst also being flexible so that people with more diverse needs could find a place of safety.

Safe Havens is an innovative hosted accommodation scheme developed by the team at IDAS, to meet this gap in service provision. The scheme matches survivors with volunteer host families who provide short-term, respite care for victims and survivors and their children, in their homes. The scheme contributes to a range of safe accommodation options that IDAS provide for survivors escaping abuse.

Save Havens is one of the first schemes of its kind. Providing good quality, temporary accommodation to anyone who has experienced domestic abuse or sexual violence. In addition to the support provided by the host, each guest is supported by an IDAS worker. Safe Havens supports people irrespective of age, sex, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or immigration status.

Jessie* was sleeping in her car to escape the abuse she was being subjected to by a long-term partner. She had previously attempted suicide feeling that she had no other way out. Jessie was referred to IDAS for support by the out of hours mental health team. She didn’t want to go into a refuge as she was worried about the communal living arrangements, she had experienced this before and found it difficult. She was still experiencing suicidal ideation and was at risk of making another attempt on her life. Jessie wanted somewhere to stay temporarily where she would be safe and could think about her options.

The Safe Havens project officer matched Jessie with trained hosts who were located away from the area of risk for Jessie. This gave Jessie the time and space where she felt safe to reflect and consider what she wanted to do next. She was supported by an IDAS worker who provided regular support sessions and daily phone calls.

As a guest, hosted by a Safe Havens volunteer, Jessie was able to come and go as she pleased in the knowledge that she would always return to a safe, familiar home. Her IDAS worker supported her to apply to be given priority on the housing waiting list and in a short time she was successfully allocated a tenancy with a social housing provider. Jessie was supported to move on into her new home and has begun to rebuild her life.

The Safe Havens scheme has faced several challenges, not least the complications of attempting to establish the scheme during the Covid19 pandemic. However, despite this the project officer was able to recruit and train hosts remotely and develop robust procedures and policies for the scheme. An additional challenge is establishing links with enough hosts to meet the demand. Furthermore, the cost-of-living crisis will contribute to the challenges for potential hosts, and IDAS anticipate that this will reduce the pool of volunteers. Further concerns are the impact of hosting and being hosted on benefit arrangements and this needs to be very carefully considered for both the host and the guest to ensure they are not negatively impacted by the arrangements. Also, finding suitable move on accommodation within the short window of time that the guests are hosted by the Safe Havens scheme can be challenging with added complications of people escaping domestic abuse sometimes being tied into joint tenancy agreements with their abuser.

The scheme has been successful at offering alternate accommodation to diversify the range of options available to people escaping domestic abuse. This has resulted in more people being able to access safe accommodation, including those for whom refuge accommodation would not have met their needs. The relationships with the hosts have enabled IDAS to provide holistic, wrap around support and the feedback from guests and hosts has been excellent.

IDAS are looking for host families in Yorkshire and would encourage anyone who is interested to get int ouch for more information.

Hosted accommodation – IDAS

*names have been changed to protect anonymity