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ID: HR23-152
Presenting author: Ruth BIRGIN

“Somewhere safe to stay.” Expanding shelter access for women and non-binary people experiencing gender based violence.

Women who use drugs are subject to extraordinary types and rates of violence fuelled by criminalisation and gender inequality. COVID-19 lockdown conditions triggered increased gender-based violence and homelessness rates, exacerbating marginalisation. At the same time, women and non-binary people who use drugs are often excluded from women’s shelters worldwide. Responding to these gaps, WHRIN has instituted a two-prong approach: developing an advocacy workshop toolkit and establishing a unique peer-led demonstration shelter model.

In 2022, three demonstration shelters were established in Nairobi, Kyiv and Abuja. While each location demonstrated acute need for such shelters, settings were varied so responsive project design recognised the value of local knowledge and context integration.

Establishment of shelters prioritising client autonomy was supported by guiding policy and procedure (including safety protocol and reporting structures) providing a harm reduction framework for low threshold, client centred accommodation for women who use drugs, including those with children, experiencing violence and/or homelessness.

A workshop toolkit targeting mainstream shelter managers to support inclusion of women and non-binary people who use drugs clients, has been researched, developed and tested. It addresses stigma, capacity, policy barriers and partnerships, functioning to support women’s shelter policy and practice reform and competencies to overcome exclusion of clients who use drugs.

Data collection and analysis show promising results, with no reported adverse incidents. The client led emphasis was novel in some sites indicating the need for sustained advocacy along with ongoing monitoring and evaluation to strengthen the evidence-base for this model. However, the shelters model already enables replicability and demonstrates that it is possible to provide much needed peer-led shelter services to clients who use drugs.

Participant feedback validated the need and affirmed content relevance of the “Addressing Inclusion of Women who Use Drugs in Shelters” workshop toolkit, with applicability for worldwide dissemination.