While loss of permanent accommodation for both men and women is often the result of a culmination of events, research has shown that the experiences and routes into homelessness for women can be different as can the support they need to recover.
With the majority of research to date tending to focus on the experiences and views of homeless men, there has been a lack of attention to the needs and vulnerabilities of women. While both share many common experiences, the failure to adequately acknowledge these gender differences means services may not have been sufficiently developed to effectively support homeless women.
Many women take extreme measures to avoid the dangers of sleeping rough, including living in squats, returning to an abusive partner, engaging in sex work and committing minor crimes to be taken into custody, all in order to secure a roof over their head for the night. This often intensifies their situation, as it keeps them “hidden” without access to services.
The total number of homeless women is unclear due in part to this hidden population as well as varying methods of defining and measuring homelessness. It is estimated that 11% of London’s rough sleepers are women and 29% of England’s 62,182 single homeless people with support needs, are women. However, neither of these figures account for the hidden homeless, which could number in the thousands across both men and women.
The stories and needs of homeless women need to be heard so that services and policy can be developed to effectively meet the recovery needs of some of society’s most complex and vulnerable people. Effective service provision is more vital than ever in the current economic climate. Additional funding cuts are expected to create further reductions to homeless services and an increase in the homeless population.