The Chrysalis Project: helping with building a new life

The Chrysalis project is a joint venture between St Mungo’s and Commonweal Housing, which helps women who are homeless and have experienced trauma, abuse and sexual exploitation. Here Helen Easton, Senior Research Fellow of the Crime Reduction and Community Safety Research Group at the London South Bank University, shares current findings.

The Chrysalis project began in 2009. It consists of three phases of residential provision for the resettlement of female former sex workers. The first phase provides hostel type accommodation for women who have recently stopped their involvement in prostitution. These women experience complicated mental and physical health issues, dependencies and other, often complex social challenges. The second phase provides residential en-suite accommodation with shared catering and relaxing services and provides considerable support for women while also allowing increased levels of self-sufficiency.

The Commonweal Housing element of the Chrysalis project forms phase three of this support and provides women who have moved away from prostitution a tenancy in one of seven transitional, move-on properties with floating support from a key worker. The accommodation provided consists of small, anonymous, one-bedroom flats in the London Borough of Lambeth. This housing is intended to prepare women for totally independent lifestyles over a period of 12–24 months. A key aim of the third phase is to ensure a flow of women through the earlier stages and on towards independent living.

Safety, remembering and mourning, reconnection

The Chrysalis project has been developed with consideration of the available evidence and literature about recovery from substance misuse and traumatic experiences. The project design is grounded in this evidence and thus has three stages – safety, remembering and mourning, and reconnection. Women progress through these stages in relation to the type of accommodation and level of support available to them as well as the types of interventions in which they participate. In addition to drawing on the available evidence and theory, the model has also been designed in consultation with women service users. The project is therefore flexible enough to support women through the exiting process by offering intensive specialist support even during periods of reversal or relapse.

While mainstream housing providers may not be understanding of these women’s needs in general, or of the likelihood and nature of periods of relapse or reversal, Chrysalis provides specialist floating support to women to allow them to continue with their tenancies while also dealing with these ongoing support needs.

Respectful and supportive

Perhaps most important to the design of the project however is a gender sensitive approach which is respectful of and supports women involved in prostitution to exit safely and permanently. Such an approach involves assisting women with their recovery from traumatic and difficult experiences in safety without fear of being evicted and being forced to return to prostitution. It acknowledges the specific needs of women involved in prostitution and provides ongoing, structured, specialist support for several years to ensure that women remain supported and in safe secure accommodation when they are at their most vulnerable.

Early findings

The women interviewed have generally been positive about the second phase of the residential en-suite accommodation and of the availability of move on accommodation. While women accommodated in the private Chrysalis flats have been positive about the accommodation and support received, they have also been open about the challenges faced in moving on and about their fears in relation to their future beyond this support.

The full two-year evaluation of the Chrysalis project is due later in 2012.

Registered Charity Number: 1113331. © Commonweal Housing Limited.