Research finds women are homeless in greater numbers than assumed

Women’s homelessness occurs at a far greater scale than is recognised, finds researchers from the University of York.

The report, delivered in collaboration with London-based homeless project, Fulfilling Lives in Islington & Camden, found women are more likely to experience hidden homelessness, existing out of sight in temporary accommodation, squats or with friends and family.

The researchers found that women’s experiences of homelessness are distinct from those of men, and concluded that there has been a failure to recognise, count and respond to women’s homelessness effectively.

They found that lone adult homelessness is as likely to be female as male, but women are just less visible.

Researchers say existing recording and counting systems in England do not accurately record all the women experiencing homelessness. However, pre-pandemic data indicates at least 14 per cent of rough sleepers in England are women.

Domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence are near universal for women who experience homelessness, according to the report.

woman leaning against a wall in dim hallway

Lead author, Joanne Bretherton from the Centre for Housing Policy at the Department of Social Policy and Social Work at the University of York, said: ‘Women experiencing homelessness are living in a state of survival, often without access to services and in high-risk environments where they are frequently subjected to violence and abuse.’

Professor Nicholas Pleace, Director of the Centre for Housing Policy, added: ‘The nature and extent of women’s homelessness has long been misunderstood. Women have been neglected and let down by the systems that should have been there to support them.’

Over 100 homeless women took part in the research, with one woman recounting how she had resorted to walking around all night, going on buses, or sleeping in hospitals or the woods.

The report calls for change in the current system that overlooks women, with counting focusing on environments which women often avoid and research previously oversampling men.

Lucy Campbell, Operational Development Manager at Fulfilling Lives in Islington & Camden, added: ‘The women we support report feeling judged and stigmatized when experiencing homelessness – we need to raise awareness of the fact that women experiencing homelessness have almost always been subjected to violence and abuse, repeated trauma, societal inequality – and that they are survivors, who need support which fully understands and responds to their experiences.’

Photo by Eric Ward


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