Andrea Williams has discovered a safe and secure home can turn the lives around of women coming out of prison
We all know the difference that a secure, stable home makes, but since I started my secondment from Wheatley Group to the Tomorrow’s Women project, I see that difference every day.
The centre is a one-stop shop where health, social care, housing and homelessness and the Scottish Prison Service work with women leaving prison, and those referred by the courts, to turn their lives around and stop offending.
The women have complex needs including poor mental health, domestic and sexual abuse, and drug and alcohol problems.
In a nutshell, I make sure that our women have a place to call home where they feel safe and can rebuild their lives.Andrea Williams
But housing is often a huge issue for them. More than half of the women we work with are homeless, and two-thirds are experiencing some kind of difficulty with housing – which is where I come in.
Prison affects people’s tenancies in many different ways. They could stop paying their rent while inside, or lose their benefits so struggle to get on their feet when they leave. So when they walk out of the prison gates, they are really vulnerable and often destitute.
In a nutshell, I make sure that our women have a place to call home where they feel safe and can rebuild their lives.
That could mean working with different agencies to find them somewhere to live, or just doing everything possible to keep them in their tenancy.
My background as a housing officer and knowledge of the housing system means I can keep lines of communication open, build relationships and really explain the system to the women.
I love seeing the difference a home makes.
Norah (not her real name) was addicted to drugs and homeless when I first met her. Now she is transformed. We got her a flat, and simply having her own front door has given her such a feeling of safety and confidence. She is now keeping up with her rent, making new friends and playing a positive part in her community.
I think the big difference I have made here is in changing the perception of housing. So often housing officers are seen as the bad guys, but I show them that housing really do care, and can help build better relationships between the women and their housing officers.
I love being able to put women in touch with the wraparound services that make a huge difference. Things like the home comforts service, which help make a house a home, the Eat Well initiative, and money advice means they can get back on track.
Over the past two years, women have been sticking with us change their lives.
We have seen reductions in offending, court appearances, prison spells, drug and alcohol use, and more women getting and keeping accommodation, getting into jobs and training, and seeing their families again.
It is not just about offending – or housing. It is about safety, security and community. It is easy to take those things for granted, but for Tomorrow’s Women, they make all the difference. It is great to be a part of that.
Andrea Williams is a member of the Homeless Advice and Accomodation (HAAT) team at the Wheatley Group