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Homeless women are coupling up for safety this Valentine’s Day

A group of charities is calling for homelessness services to do more for couples on the streets
Vector illustration of many hands reaching up into the air with red hearts on them.

Services across the UK are letting down rough sleeping couples, a new campaign says.

Brighton Women’s Centre is teaming up with Commonweal Housing for the campaign, #CouplingUp, to take a stand for women sleeping rough – who often feel forced to get into a relationship on the streets for safety – and their partners.

Through a series of specially-designed anonymous dating profiles, the charities are calling for homelessness services to be more welcoming of couples.

An unnamed homeless woman said: “Being a woman is very frightening and intimidating – all eyes are on you especially if new to an area or community.

“In terms of being on the street [it was] vital [for me] to be in a couple – I feel I would not survive without that. We are the support for each other, we are each other’s services.”

Coupling Up campaign
Image: Brighton Women's Centre

The charities collaborated with Homeless Link to investigate the relationships of couples sleeping rough and what support they might be able to access together. However less than 10 per cent of 1,215 homelessness services in the UK accepted couples. Many said they were too volatile.

The dynamic between individual couples should always be considered, the charities said, and a ‘housing first’ approach might not always be possible in the case of couples – but they should be considered as assets rather than problems. Lisa Dando, director of Brighton Women’s Centre, said: “We wanted to show people that women do exist on the street and that they can be in a lot of danger, and that coupling up is often a way to lessen that danger but brings its own risks.

“We hope that by talking about this issue on Valentine’s Day we can not only shed a light on the existence and nature of rough sleeping couples but encourage more providers to consider what services they offer to women and couples.”

A report produced ahead of the campaign described an increasing number of services as “couple blind” or “single-centric”, and said the needs of homeless couples were not being acknowledged never mind met.

However many relationships on the street slip into abuse, violence and crime. Brighton Women’s Centre therefore recommended that a ‘couples first’ approach should include gender-specific practices which take potential trauma into account. Strategies to safely exit a relationship should be set up too if necessary.

Ashley Horsey, CEO of Commonweal Housing, said they hoped that as well as highlighting the issue of homeless women’s safety, the campaign would “show the general public that homeless people have wants and needs just like anyone else”.