Gillian Jarrett started drinking to cope with domestic violence from her ex-husband.
“I drank to numb the pain,” she says. “But I soon realised I had to stop for the sake of my children who were young teenagers at the time.”
It wasn’t easy to stop. Gillian became homeless and spent nine years moving from hostel to hostel, before moving to Dean Crescent, Bristol’s only 24-hour emergency housing project for homeless women.
Now, with the help of her Dean Crescent key worker, Gillian is on the council’s priority housing list, has been sober for over a month and is applying for local work placements to pursue her passion for counselling.
“Hopefully I can get back into work and help others who have been in similar situations,” she says. “I think I have an insight and it shows that you can come out the other side.”
Gillian is one of around 800 women helped by Dean Cresent, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.
Sarah Minns, head of housing and support for housing group Novas, which runs the project, says the demand for the service has been “constant”.
“Only one in 10 women seeking accommodation at the project get a place, due to a lack of vacancies. This highlights the level of need for emergency housing for homeless women, which is accessible when they need it.”
Homeless women suffer from being in a minority – around 10 to 25 per cent of homeless people on the streets and in hostels are women.
Many services are seen as inappropriate or exclusive of women’s needs, but there are few like Dean’s Crescent to plug the gap.
Many of the women who come to Dean Crescent are facing abuse, or living in unsafe situations, but Minns believes the project plays a “vital” role in providing a safe, supportive environment.
The Supporting People funded hostel is made up of 20 single roomed, staffed 24 hours a day by 14 staff.
Over the past decade, the project has helped women to move into their own accommodation, helping them out of alcohol and drug dependencies, and placing them into education or employment on a full-time basis.
It helps women who find themselves on the margins of society, like Gillian and Somalian refugee Malika Ahmed.
Malika came to Bristol in 2003 and spent eight months in Dean Crescent. With help from staff she was able to find a new place to live, and continued to improve her grasp of English.
Since moving into her own flat, she has continued her involvement with Dean Cresecnt and is now part of Novas Services Committee, which scrutinises the group’s policies and is chair of the south west customer involvement board.
She says: “Whilst at Dean Crescent I had a lot of assistance and support, especially from my support worker. Thanks to her and others I was able to access services which helped with my move and has furthered my education.”