Shelley* came to Cathedral Archer Project when she was 18. She was abused by both her step father and uncle and turned to sex work to earn money for her uncle’s heroin addiction. She became addicted too. When she came to us looking for somewhere to live, we supported her to work with the South Yorkshire Police and her uncle was eventually imprisoned. Shelley worked through her very low self-esteem to overcome her heroin addiction and stopped being a sex worker. She began to enjoy learning and doing new activities. After facing a second very bad and controlling relationship, Shelley was able to realise that she is a very strong person who is able to face setbacks and deal with them. In her words she “used the project to gain a life”. She is still in touch with the project to this day and is now in fulltime employment and a loving relationship.
Whilst women are a minority in the homeless population with only 26% of homeless adults being women, they are more likely to have greater levels of mental illness than men as a result of physical and sexual abuse. This is not helped by the fact that only 12% of homeless women access the help and support they need, one of the reasons why if you were to visit the Cathedral Archer Project, you would see very few women. Alarmingly, many homeless women engage in unwanted sexual liaisons in order to gain accommodation, one of the many reasons why our work here at the Project is so vital.
With International Women’s day being last week, it is an important time to reflect on this group who are less easily reached and a time to think about what we can do to help this situation. Whilst Shelley’s story is one with a happy ending and it is clear that the Cathedral Archer Project was able to help her, this needs to be the case for more women like her who are also homeless.
*Names have been changed to protect our service users' anonymity