A longitudinal study of the service use and need of homeless women

Emma Williamson Completed   2013


Social factors, such as unemployment, changes in housing policy, including the availability of social housing and patterns of family breakdown have a major impact on the rate of homelessness. But people who become homeless are not all the same, they have different reasons for being homeless, different support needs, different strengths and individual solutions out of their situations.

Many of the circumstances which are often associated with homelessness can affect men and women equally, however, homelessness can impact on women more deeply for several reasons. To lose their home, with all its symbolic importance and sense of security is, therefore, a deeply traumatic experience for women.

For women with these issues, they often find themselves in vulnerable and unsafe situations where they are more likely to experience further abuse. All these issues lead to homeless women having low self-esteem and little confidence which makes changing their lives difficult.


This research aimed to work with homeless women to find a way to ‘track’ them over time in a way which they are comfortable with. For many homeless women dealing with entrenched problems makes it difficult to turn their lives around quickly, whatever support they are offered. By finding out what works, over time, this research aimed to help service providers to better support homeless women and commissioners to find ways of supporting homeless women to successful outcomes.


  • The homeless women in this study were struggling to survive the impact of a large number of traumatic, and often gendered, life events. These experiences contributed to the multiple service needs they identified
  • Both service users and practitioners recognised the need for a pivotal key worker role to facilitate access across services
  • None of the participants referred to having a social worker for themselves as adult
  • Re-telling their life story to a large number of  practitioners, over and over again, in order to access services, was felt to be humiliating and disempowering and contributed to the impact of complex trauma
  • Service users preferred practitioners who treated them as human beings, genuinely listened to them, and took the time to build meaningful and trusting relationships
  • Practitioners often felt that their services lacked the resources to adequately build meaningful relationships with clients
  • Stable and emotionally and physically safe environments are essential to addressing the needs of homeless women
  • Service users recognised the constraints on workers in terms of funding cuts, however, this often resulted in them feeling worse, guilty about having a service and less supported
  • Many women still felt vulnerable at times to relapse and felt that some form of ongoing, low level support would reduce the risk of them, and other homeless women, reentering the system.


Journal paper

Cameron AM, Abrahams HA, Morgan KJ, Williamson E, Henry LW (2016) From pillar to post: homeless women’s experiences of social care, Health and Social Care in the Community, 24, 3, 345–352.

Abrahams HA, James J, Powell L, Williamson E, Morgan KJ, Cameron AM, Henry LW (2015) Service user involvement in longitudinal research, International Journal of Qualitative Research in Services, 2, 1, 13-17.

Williamson E, Abrahams HA, Morgan KJ, Cameron A (2014) The TARA Project: Tracking homeless women in longitudinal research, European Journal of Homelessness. 8, 2, 69.

The TARA Project: A longitudinal study of the service needs of homeless women
( https://www.sscr.nihr.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/SSCR-research-findings_RF013.pdf )
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