WRS II NATIONAL CONFERENCE IN SLOVENIA: Content Summary

On the 13th of March 2014 Slovenian partner EuroCoop, Institute for European Research and Development hosted the National Conference “Empowering Women Rough Sleepers to Protect Themselves from Violence on the Streets” as part of WRS II dissemination activities.

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National Conference was held at the Congress Centre Brdo pri Kranju and was attended by all the prominent professional representatives in the field of homelessness in Slovenia. Main topics of the conference were based on project research in the field of WRS in Slovenia and highlighted the area-relevant issues and good practices, such as position and needs of WRS in Slovenia and problem of violence against them; their survival strategies and basic health problems and finally – ways and means to empower them, especially for protection against violence.

Prof. Kate Moss, head of the project WRS II from the University of Wolverhampton gave particular importance to the conference. She addressed over 70 participants and stressed the importance of raising public awareness about homeless women and their empowerment. She presented results of the research on homelessness among women in Europe. 70 – 100% of women became homeless as a result of domestic violence. She pointed out that even in Slovenia most women become homeless due to domestic violence. There is also an increasing number of older women, who were left without a home after their partner died and the rest of the family ceased to take care of them. 20% of women, who are left without a home, find shelter with acquaintances, 15% go to shelters and 12% sleep on the street or railway stations. On the subject of violence these women have experienced on the street she pointed out, that 21% were deliberately pushed, 15% were beaten, and 13% were raped. At the end of the presentation of results for Slovenia, she also addressed the issue of health problems of homeless women; as much as 33% of these women suffer from mental health issues. For conclusion she emphasized that homeless women are a growing social problem and they are a particularly vulnerable social group, which needs more systemic attention.

Homeless Women in Slovenia and Answers to Their Needs

First speakers at the conference Romina Purič and mag. Mateja Prosen from Social Care Centre Kranj have presented the general situation in the field of homeless women in Slovenia. Right now, the number of homeless people, men and women, is on the rise in almost all European countries, which can mean two things – their homelessness is becoming more visible and their vulnerability in the area of residence is growing. The reasons for homelessness are complex and we can recognize structural, institutional, relationship based ad individual causes. We can recognize several groups of women, who are particularly vulnerable to homelessness and their experiences are associated to violence, care for others, family status, unemployment, age, nationality, disability, ethnicity, problems with alcohol and drugs, institutional stay. Three major factors affecting women and housing problems are economic status, family status and to which extent the housing and social policies regulate vulnerability of women in the housing market. The three most obvious reasons for the invisibility of homelessness among women are: their ability to solve their housing problems through informal networks; they’re ashamed of their situation, so they use many strategies to avoid it; their specific needs are often not heard, they have to abide by the rules of men and therefore prefer to avoid it. In Slovenia there is currently a lack of specialised services for homeless women and we also face obstacles when responding to their needs.

Experiences of Working with Homeless Women in the Association Kings of the Street - Examples of Good Practices

Monika Cerar from Association Kralji ulice continued the presentation and illustrated her experiences with homeless women in their society and their good practices. She pointed out that the society performs various projects and activities which involve their service users. They have observed an increase in number of homeless women, which due to strong social pressure, discrimination and stereotypes, need more opportunities and encouragement to speak out, to show they feel equal to their homeless and socially excluded male colleagues. In 2011, through the Office for Equal Opportunities, they applied for a project called Woman to Woman, where they wanted to point out specific woman problems in the field of homelessness, both at the micro level, through the street newspaper Kralji ulice (Kings of the Street). They also motivate women with creating columns and articles related to women’s issues for the street newspaper Kralji ulice. They work on informing and empowering women users, encouraging the opening of themes that are connected to problems women face with their partners, relatives and the entire society.

Experiences of Violence of Homeless Women and Their Survival Strategies

Anja Pirec Sansoni and Irena Rezar, professional workers from the Homeless Shelter Kranj, have highlighted the pressing issue of violence against homeless women. They are a very heterogeneous group, since their situations are very diverse, but all of them have experienced violence in a certain period of their lives. Violence has a great impact on homeless women, it affects their physical and mental health, self-esteem and the ability to resolve their situation. Homeless women are particularly vulnerable to all forms of violence, but they usually don’t dare to report it or don’t perceive these acts as violence. They experience violence more often than other women, on the streets from passers-by, other homeless people or users of services they also use and from their (ex) partners. Homeless women often avoid services, where most users are men or are led mostly by men, because they fear harassment, abuse and a subordinate position, therefore working with them also has to be gender – sensitive. Services aimed at the general population of homeless people have to be adapted for female users, with emphasis on prevention of all forms of violence.

Housing Problem of Women Who Have Experienced Violence and the Systemic Aspect of Resolving Their Situation

Katja Matko from SOS Telefon Association, telephone for women and children – victims of violence, who focused on the connection of domestic violence and homelessness, has presented similar findings. There is a connection between hidden homelessness and domestic violence. When domestic violence occurs, the victims lose the sense of “home”. Women and children – victims of violence leave their homes in most cases, because perpetrators of violence stay there. This can present a unique trauma. Women and children usually leave with just the things they pack in bags and can carry in their hands. Systemic solutions of housing problems of women – victims of violence and their children are limited by space and time. When time assigned for their stay in a safe house or maternity home runs out, they often have to navigate in a vicious circle of solving their housing problems, often with very limited financial means.

Experience of Working with Homeless Women Users of Illegal Drugs

Sabina Zorec, the head of the Safe House Stigma project has presented the project and their programme, which is intended for female drug users, who have experienced or still experience violence and need a safe place to stay. Service users get a chance to live in a safe place, which allows them to relax and empower to change their lifestyle towards the set goals. The users themselves decide to come to the safe house. The programme differs from other existing ones by providing secure accommodation and psychosocial support to female drug users and provides a holistic approach to the issue of violence against women and addiction, without preconditioning abstinence from illicit drugs. Through individual work they create circumstances, where users get an incentive to identify their needs and wishes and encouragement for active participation in finding solutions. The central topic is not drug use, but a healthy lifestyle. Drug use is not viewed as “evil”, but as an attitude towards yourself and a way to survive.

Housing and Social Problems of Women - Victims of Trafficking

Polona Kovač, the head of the project at the Association Ključ talked about trafficking in human beings, mostly women. Trafficking is based on a large number of people with very low or no income and are therefore willing to believe any kind of promises of better future, which makes them vulnerable to become victims of trafficking in human beings. On the map of human trafficking, Slovenia is a transit country as well as a country of origin and destination. Victims of trafficking are women, forced into prostitution, men, exploited at construction sites and in farming, Roma girls, forced into marriages, children and adults, forced to beg. There are especially a lot of foreigners, which are, due to their unfamiliarity with the language, legislation and poor state of their home countries easy targets of traffickers. Most victims of trafficking for the purpose of prostitution come from poor families in less developed countries. These families see sending their children to work in other countries as the only way to end poverty. In addition to poverty, most victims of trafficking in human beings have experienced violence or sexual abuse in their home environment, which made them more susceptible to trafficking in human beings.

Health of Homeless Women

Dr. Aleksander Doplihar from Ambulance for people without health insurance Pro Bono couldn`t attend the conference due to health problems, yet he passed his message about the health of homeless women. In his experience homeless women use their services much less often than man. When they decide for a visit, they come with a partner, rarely alone. Their health problems are similar to problems of homeless man yet they also often suffer from problems on women`s organs. Homeless women are afraid to become pregnant, new-borns are usually weak and have health problems, while women also often suffer from abortions.

Mental Health of Homeless Women (experiences from practice and needs)

Dr. Suzana Oreški, president of the Association Altra and head of the Counselling programme has highlighted the activities of the association in helping women with mental health issues. Association Altra is active in the field of mental health in the community for more than twenty years. Long-term development and implementation of community forms of assistance and support to persons with mental health problems has affected the stabilization of three public social assistance programmes in the last decade: Residential groups, Counselling and Day centre. Women with mental health issues are vulnerable and hampered on many layers. A common obstacle with their integration to society is unresolved accommodation. This is a frequent cause of admittance to social welfare institutions. The reason is not a chronic and incurable mental disorder, but a lack of apartments with supportive forms of assistance. It is also estimated that there is a lack of community-mobile teams to timely provide psychosocial assistance in the field. Experiences of the Residential groups programme have shown that accommodating women has solved their housing predicaments, virtually got them “off the street” or getting admitted in an institution, since there was not enough sensibility in their local communities to resolve their distress. In the Counselling programme women sought help to resolve their housing problems, because they have been living on the street or derelict buildings with no heating for several months. Practical experience shows, that psychosocial needs of homeless women are complex and demand a multidisciplinary approach.

Conference Conclusions

Programme head of the conference and expert in the field of female homelessness in Slovenia Anja Pirec Sansoni summed up the conference outputs in four important points:

  1. need for female targeted services for homeless women or the accommodation of the existing services,
  2. special care has to be put to topic of violence against homeless women, including believing them when they talk about it,
  3. topic of homeless women and hidden homelessness among women in general should be more exposed in public,
  4. changes are needed in this area, following the principle of bottom-up approach, focusing on the needs of homeless women.

Conference Materials

1. Invitation to the conference (SI)

2. Conference flyer (SI)

3. Conference poster (SI)

4. Conference banner (SI)

 

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