Becoming homeless is a distressing situation for anyone, but there are specific issues and dangers for young women who find themselves facing life on the streets.
That’s why our Women’s Group is so important to many of the women and girls coming to New Horizon Youth Centre. To find out more about the group we spoke to its facilitator Hazz, Siobhan, a young person who attends, and our youth work manager Danielle.
Could you explain what Women's Group is and why was it set up?
Danielle: Women’s Group was set up in 2008 with funding from Comic Relief, answering a need expressed by many of our young women for a space to discuss issues specific to them. It runs weekly, is trans-inclusive and functions as a non-clinical therapeutic space, but is also fun!
Hazz: We wanted to give women a safe space where they could express themselves, make positive friendships and get away from some of the negative things in their life. I started running it as a student, I’m a youth worker but I also have specialist training in crisis management and Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG). We get on average between five and eleven girls per week, with new people coming all the time.
How does Women’s Group work?
Hazz: Generally we’ll have an activity to do while discussing certain topics, so rather than just sitting around in a circle talking, which can be intimidating for some people, we might do each other’s make-up, hair or nails, which helps everyone to relax and let their guard down a bit. We want to make it fun and welcoming so we might put music on, or even have a dance at the end of the session.
Siobhan: I’ve been going for about three months, it’s good because Hazz and Chavel who run the group make you feel really comfortable, so you can talk about any issues you’ve got. Last week I led a drugs and alcohol workshop, which I really enjoyed, because youth work is something I want to do as a career.
Danielle: I think it helps that Hazz is a youth worker, which makes it easier for her to build trust with the group.
What are some of the specific issues for young women coming to NH?
Hazz: Obviously there are problems for any homeless young person, but women are far more vulnerable to being exploited, some get into very risky relationships and situations, and Women’s Group can help them realise when they are at risk. Relationships develop a lot faster on the streets, people are more likely to trust others as they’re often in desperate need of help, and that can lead to dangerous situations as others try to exploit that vulnerability.
Are there situations that can lead to young women in particular becoming homeless?
Hazz: For a lot of the women I’ve worked with it’s been issues at home, domestic violence, controlling relationships, family conflict or breakdown.
Is there anywhere else you can go to talk about what you discuss in Women's Group?
Siobhan: For me personally, no.
Hazz: I find that the issues women bring to women’s group are ones I don’t ever hear them talking about in other parts of the centre. We’re not a survivor’s group but we are confidential and it is a way for young women to talk to others who might have experienced similar things.
How does the work you do in the group help you outside the centre?
Siobhan: I’ve learned better ways to deal with certain situations, by bringing it up in the group and hearing what other people think. The peer mentoring as well is something I’ve not really done before, and I think that’ll help me get to where I want to be.
Hazz: It really helps build confidence, especially for girls who are new in the centre, and it helps them make friends who they can turn to outside the centre.
Finally, could you tell us what’s coming up for Women's Group in the next few months?
Hazz: We’ve got an eight-week project coming up in partnership with the Wellcome Collection, which will be focusing on using the voice in all kinds of ways, from singing to spoken word to using technology like loop pedals. That’ll lead to young women running a one-hour radio show on Resonance FM. We’re also going to have self-defence workshops led by our colleague, Janet, and we’ll be doing more peer mentoring. That leads to a certificate which can help with employability.
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