Commonweal Housing and its two partners, Housing for Women and Women in Prison have launched Re-Unite, a pioneering new housing project, that will re-unite mothers with their children following the mother’s release from prison.
The project is designed to rectify a major social injustice, the ‘Catch 22’ situation facing hundreds of women leaving prison who want to re-establish family life with their children. Typically a woman is unable to get her children back from social care unless she has somewhere suitable to live, but she is not entitled to suitable housing, unless her children are living with her.
Speaking at the launch event, Baronness Jean Corston, author of the Corston Review into vulnerable women in the criminal justice system launching the project said:
“Women prisoners’ experience is quite unlike the experience for men. For men there is often someone to keep the home fires burning. The focus for them is all about employability when they come out. But if I say to a women in prison ‘what do you want?’ they say, ‘somewhere for me and my kids to live.’
“Women who come out of prison and go to a housing department and ask for housing are told, ‘You are single, you are intentionally homeless, so we don’t have responsibility’. They go to social services and say they want their children back and they say, ‘No, you have nowhere to live.’
“It’s a Catch 22 that can put women into a vortex of despiar. 62% of the children of women in prison end up in prison. The Re-Unite project is about helping those children to a better start in life.”
The Re-Unite project aims to overcome the Catch 22 barrier by providing housing for up to two years for women and their children to live independently, assisted by a personalised support from a key worker. It also provides anonymity and protection for women who have experienced domestic violence. Commonweal has already bought the first five of 10 homes in south London that will be included in the scheme. The first familes have already been re-united.