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Patricia and Gemma, Senior Caseworkers at Glass Door, talk about their progression as leaders within Glass Door, their experiences of working in the homelessness sector as women, and what it means to provide services for women affected by homelessness. 

What do you do at Glass Door? 


I've been working at Glassdoor since September 2019. I started off as a Caseworker, and then applied to be a Senior Caseworker which has meant taking on responsibility for the relationship between our service and the partner day centre I work from, and currently I am also taking lead on the Casework Service for the Hammersmith and Fulham night shelter circuit, which is the shelter for women.  


I started in October 2018, and eventually became more responsible for the casework at the Wandsworth night shelter circuit. In 2021 I became a Senior Caseworker, which meant taking on more responsibility and managing the relationship with the day centre I’m based at, as Gemma does 

As soon as I started, I was trusted by my manager with a lot of things, like dealing with Lambeth Council’s outreach team, and the housing teams from both Lambeth and Wandsworth. He started immediately putting me forward for meetings, which meant I could progress quickly.

It felt really good to have that trust.  


What does it mean to be a leader as a woman? 


When you're a leader, it's not just about the work, its about the people, their wellbeing and the space you create for them. You want to deserve the respect for the role, to earn it.  


At Glass Door I have this space to be able to be a woman, of my age, of my background, with my own needs and style of working. I was able from the start to do it my way, and luckily enough, my way was what works for Glass Door, for Ace of Clubs, and for the people that we support.  

It can happen that women, especially of a certain age, can become invisible, but that doesn’t happen at here. It's really nice to see that it doesn't matter who you are, how old you are, where you come from, or your gender; Glass Door holds the space for you to work the way you need to. 


I’ve always had an opinion on how the bigger picture was delivered. I have opinions on the night shelters, on our services. I have never felt like the Senior Leadership Team has found that annoying.

They have always valued my opinion, which is especially important when it comes to gender-informed and trauma-informed spaces. 


What is your experience of working in the homelessness sector as a woman? 


As women we are uniquely placed to support the women who use our services. Recently a young woman who has been staying in the night shelter told me that she had just started her period and was in a lot of pain and feeling nauseous. Her friend had offered her two nights to stay with her just at the beginning of her period, because she wasn’t sure she could manage being in the night shelter while feeling so unwell. This is the kind of thing which needs to be considered when developing services. 

I also don’t think that she would have approached me about that if I wasn’t a woman. There’s a trust that you will understand, it’s a less risky interaction than approaching a man about something like that, even if that man is lovely and well trained.

It’s one less barrier to someone asking for what they need.  


You have to consider how to even approach starting a conversation, how to hold space for women. One guest I work with is very vulnerable, and at the start she wasn’t looking at me, but by the end of our session she was making eye contact, she trusted me and clearly felt a lot calmer despite being so stressed at the beginning. I don’t think she would have been able to reach that level of comfort with a man. So that’s something we can provide, which is a positive. 

However, one of the main difficulties of working as a woman in the homelessness sector is not being taken as seriously by some of our guests who are men. Our advice can be disregarded, especially if we look young, and we are more likely to experience abusive behaviour from guests. 

Our work is always trauma-informed, meaning we are able to understand why some guests behave in certain ways. However, there is a difference between how women and men caseworkers are treated, and much of this is to do with misogyny, which is a deep societal issue.  

That's why it's so important and refreshing to work somewhere that women are listened to and appreciated.  


What does it mean to be delivering women’s services in the homelessness sector? 


I worked at the Women’s Group (a regular daytime space for women experiencing homelessness) from when it first started and it was the most difficult thing I used to do, even though it was predominantly a space for camaraderie and respite rather than casework. A lot of the women coming to that space had complex mental health needs. It was the most difficult space, but it was also so rewarding, so when the women’s night shelter was starting, I really wanted to put myself forward.  


My experience of working with women has been quite different; I’ve always ended up working more with migrant women, single mothers, women who have limited English and are struggling with childcare and working alongside homelessness or risk of homelessness. Migrant women often have no support other than their community or other women, so a lot of how I support them is with knowing about schools, child benefits and accessing housing through councils.  

It’s very interesting how helping women who are affected by homelessness can be so different depending on where you’re based, which day centre you’re working from, and therefore which community you happen to cover. 


One of the difficulties I’m having at the moment is with the private rented sector, specifically in the context where a space in an HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) requires living with other people; a lot of the women I’m working with don’t want to share with men for safety reasons, and unfortunately there are very few space that offer that, especially in the private rented sector. So that significantly affects people’s housing options, meaning they stay in the night shelters longer, sleep on buses longer, and ultimately take longer to find their way out of homelessness.  

The thing to remember when providing gender-informed services and holding space for women is that every single woman goes through very different things.

They can be from different demographics, require different services, and experience different barriers. They can be single mothers, be dealing with migration issues, have severe mental ill-health, have substance use issues, have a history of domestic violence. However, for a lot of women there is instantly one difficult element removed when they are in a women’s space – one less thing to be concerned about.