In 2009, Commonweal Housing partnered with the housing and homelessness charity St Mungo’s to develop a new model of supported housing for women exiting prostitution. While St Mungo’s had been offering a two-stage programme of emergency support and temporary hostel accommodation for several years, the partnership with Commonweal added a third stage: safe and anonymous housing. The one-bedroom flats allowed women to find stability, security, and independence, and start rebuilding their lives away from the pressures of prostitution and substance abuse.
The housing partnership was funding by Lambeth Council, and ran for seven years. The project was completed in summer 2016. Following a formal evaluation in 2013 and a follow up study in 2015, the key lessons and findings were incorporated into the design of a new Commonweal programme, the spiritual successor of Chrysalis: the Amari Project.
A three-step model for leaving the streets
The Chrysalis Programme was based around a three-stage programme, designed to help women access the support and shelter they need to make a phased exit from prostitution.
Stage one: Provides women emergency accommodation and a formal assessment of needs. It establishes a safe environment away from the pressures of street prostitution, where women can receive immediate support with health and substance misuse issues.
Stage two: Women who move on from Stage One are then provided with accommodation in a women-only hostel, where they can stabilise any substance misuse and gain distance from the streets. This phase provides intensive tailored support, responsive to each woman’s circumstances and needs, aiming to develop independence and find realistic alternatives to prostitution for each client.
Stage three: For those clients ready to move out of the Stage 2 hostel and begin living independently, Commonweal Housing provided seven secure and anonymous one-bed flats, located in the London Borough of Lambeth. This accommodation was available to women who no longer needed the intensive emergency support of Stages 1 and 2, and were ready to rebuild their lives off the street. The accommodation aimed to provide empowerment through independence, while still providing floating support from St Mungo’s key workers.
Support work was delivered using the St Mungo’s principle of ‘personalised recovery’, recognising that each individual will have their own unique and non-linear process of recovery from trauma. The support model therefore took a staged approach, viewing lapses and reversals as a normal part of a woman’s exiting journey rather than her failure.
In summer 2016, funding cutbacks from Lambeth Council led to the discontinuation of Stage 3, and thus Commonweal’s role in the Chrysalis project came to a close. St Mungo’s continues to run the first 2 stages of the project.
Evaluation and lessons learned
As an Action Learning Charity, Commonweal engages independent evaluators to assess and appraise each of our projects on an on-going basis. This helps us to ensure that the maximum impact is achieved from our pilot projects, capturing data and learnings from their design and implementation.
The independent evaluation for the Chrysalis project was carried by Professor Roger Matthews, formally of the Crime Reduction and Community Safety Research Group at London South Bank University, and currently Professor of Criminology at The University of Kent. The full report is available here.
Amongst other benefits, the evaluation found that women involved in the project reported experiencing a range of benefits, including:
- Increased responsibility and independence, including such tasks as managing money and housework, with increased accountability leading to a sense of pride. These changes were significant considering the previously chaotic nature of their lives and many women were surprised at their new positive attitudes towards responsibility.
- Reconnecting with family. In particular, one woman was able to keep custody of her child where her previous children had been removed into the care of social services. Another re-established connections with family that had been lost during her period of involvement in street prostitution.
- Education, skills and training. The women became engaged in skills development that would enable them to make enduring changes as they transitioned into independent lifestyles.
- Financial independence. Several women became more economically active, finding a suitable career path or even starting their own business.
- Improved self esteem.
- Meaningful social activities
- Moving on into independent private rental accommodation.
The lessons and key findings of the Chrysalis project were captured by Commonweal’s rigorous ongoing evaluation programme, and were used to design the “spiritual successor” to Chrysalis: the Amari project.
A unique approach to supporting women to exit prostitution… the dedicated third stage accommodation is crucial to the success of the Chrysalis Project. Having access to independent accommodation with ongoing support assists with the process of ‘role exit’ by introducing women to new experiences, responsibilities and associated emotional experiences at a manageable pace.
Being away from the hostel environment allows women to process changes and develop new aspects of their identity […] while at the same time having a ‘safety net’ to fall back on if needed.
Linda* is a mother of 6. When she came to the Chrysalis Project she was homeless, and had minimal contact with her children . She had a severe history of domestic violence and substance abuse over a fifteen year period. She entered the Chrysalis service in 2007, first attending a 3-month community programme followed by residential detox and 6 months of rehab, and then was granted tenancy of a Commonweal flat under Stage 3 of the programme. She engaged well with her support workers, made good progress on her substance abuse recovery plan, and was reunited with her immediate family. She was able to take an active role as a mother to her six children for the first time in many years, and explored the possibility of returning to college for training and education. Ultimately she was able to find alternative housing for her move on from the project.
* names have been changed