Commonweal and St Mungo’s have jointly delivered the Chrysalis project since 2009. Here we present the findings of our evaluation of the project that helps women exit street prostitution.
Through our partners we hear of women who have made tremendous strides in moving from a bad place in their lives to a much better place, through their own hard work and the support available in hostel settings such as those provided by homeless charity St. Mungo’s. Yet, when they are ready to move on and take up their new tenancies, too many of these women – whether in social housing or in the private rented sector – are unable to sustain that progress. They often fall back into dependencies and continue to face complex social challenges. All their good work and the resources spent come to nothing, and at a huge emotional, psychological and physical cost to their own wellbeing.
So, in partnership with St Mungo’s, we embarked upon the Chrysalis project in order to provide a housing and support solution that really helped women to avoid falling back into prostitution once they left their hostel environment.
The Chrysalis project supports homeless women who have been involved in street prostitution in South London. All of the women have substance use issues and many have experience of physical, mental and/or sexual abuse.
The project provides a unique service for this particular client group. It is designed around three accommodation stages, which together offer a clear route towards living independently. Nowhere else in London, or the country, provides accommodation-based exiting support.
St Mungo’s supports the women throughout the three stages of the project. The first two stages involve both a high-support hostel and a semi-independent project, in which support is less intensive and the women are able to take on more responsibility. The Commonweal Housing element of the Chrysalis project forms the third stage; it includes ‘transitional accommodation’ comprised of seven self-contained flats in which women can get help and advice from a team of support workers. Tenants are responsible for managing the properties, paying bills, paying rent, cleaning, and developing appropriate networks on which to build their new lives.
The project is at the cutting edge of service design. Both the physical environment of the hostel and the support provided in the first two stages are focused on ensuring that women feel emotionally safe and can address past traumas. The women are also able to access St Mungo’s Lifeworks service, which offers specialised psychotherapeutic counselling.
Over two years, we worked with the women to examine the ways in which the project made an impact on their lives and supported them to prepare for or to actually move on to independent living.
Nine women had been accommodated in phase three of the Commonweal flats and a further three women were expecting to move into a flat some time in the near future.
At the end of 2012 the Chrysalis project was evaluated by the University of Kent. It was clear the three-stage approach was really effective. It encouraged them to progress at their own pace and in their own way and helped support women who experienced lapses or relapses.
The provision of safe, good quality, independent accommodation as part of phase three was considered to be a vital part of the Chrysalis project. The accommodation provided women a balance between continuity of support, safety and stability and an opportunity to develop their independence while also offering them something to aspire to. While women accommodated in the Commonweal flats were positive about the accommodation and support received, they were also open about the challenges they faced in moving on and about their fears in relation to their future beyond this support and a transition into fully independent living. This clearly indicates the importance of this final stage of accommodation as a buffer before the women take the final steps to independent lifestyles.
All of the women, even those with a prior history of abandoning or being asked to leave St Mungo’s accommodation, remained in their flats until they were ready to move on. Three of the 10 women have moved on from the Chrysalis project into independent accommodation. Of these women one remained in her Commonweal flat for four months, one for 18 months and one for the full two years permitted.
The evaluation found that the Chrysalis project helped the women to demonstrate an increased willingness and ability to be both responsible and independent, reconnect with family, improve their self esteem, engage in skills and employment training, and develop meaningful social activities.
The Chrysalis project also helped St Mungo’s to understand better the complex challenges faced by homeless women and how the right support at the right time can help them recover from homelessness.
The changing political and economic climate over the course of the evaluation has meant that there have been significant changes to how St Mungo’s and Commonweal deliver the Chrysalis project. The London Borough of Lambeth recently reconfigured its supported housing and accommodation pathway resulting in changes to the referral pathway, elements of the structure of the service and a reduced time period of accessing the project to a total of 24 months for the entire project.
Commonweal sets out to test whether certain housing and support solutions are viable and if there is scope to develop them on a broader scale across England.
While there is growing awareness of the benefits of providing support for women wanting to leave prostitution, there is limited stable, specialist, and supported accommodation in most areas. The evidence gathered from the Chrysalis project suggests that the supported accommodation provided can assist women to recover from the shame and stigma of their experiences and begin to establish a stable lifestyle that leaves behind former sex work histories.
Through its Rebuilding Shattered Lives campaign St Mungo’s is building on this experience to ensure that more effective services for homeless women are available nationally.