First-ever rough sleeping census of women reveals systemic inequalities create barriers to help
On International Women’s Day, a coalition of leading women’s and homelessness organisations, supported by London Councils and the GLA, is calling on the Government to recognise the urgent and distinct problems faced by women who are rough sleeping, and take immediate action to address the systemic inequalities creating barriers to women accessing support and housing.
Launching on 9 March, a new report, ‘Making Women Count’ sets out the key findings and learnings from a first of its kind census of women sleeping rough in London.
The census found 154 women rough sleeping in London in a week. This indicates a higher number of women sleeping rough in London than previously believed – and the organisers suggest it may still under-represent the true figure. Counting women sleeping rough is particularly complex as many are not in touch with support services and are more hidden than male counterparts.
‘Making Women Count’, written by social research consultancy Praxis Collab, emphasises that women’s rough sleeping is often transient, intermittent and hidden. This means that women are often not represented in official statistics and, crucially, are often precluded from accessing support and housing. The effects of this inequality of access are severe: experiences of violence and abuse are “near universal” for women who sleep rough, and the average age of death is just 43 years old, even younger than their male counterparts (45). This means women experiencing homelessness are living just half as long as most women in the UK where the most common age of death for is 89.
Women who sleep rough are at constant high risk of trauma, violence and abuse, and severe, complex health needs. No woman should have to sleep rough and endure these devastating consequences.
Michelle, 45 from North London spent three and a half years sleeping rough before getting help and then coming to Single Homeless Project. She says: “When I lost my house, I had twenty minutes to get out and I had nowhere to go. I slept in woods, on buses and in hospitals. I had to hide because there were always people shouting at me and men trying to attack me. It was so horrible and I felt like a tramp. I just wanted to survive every day, so I sectioned myself and I even went to prison deliberately just to get off the streets. But when I was released, I was just back out on the streets again. The vulnerability for women is very bad and the trauma I experience from rough sleeping will affect me for the rest of my life.”
The report makes specific calls to action on the Government for system change in the way that women’s rough sleeping is recognised, counted and responded to:
- Local authorities should be required to deliver an annual Women’s Rough Sleeping Census and report on their findings.
- The Government should produce guidance to help local authorities to improve access to rough sleeping services for women, including:
- Reducing barriers to support and accommodation services for women, including the need to be a verified rough sleeper.
- Ensuring outreach practices encompass women’s experiences.
The census, conducted from 3rd to the 7th of October, used new methodology and a gender-informed outreach approach to pilot a response to data capture which truly accounts for women’s experiences. It was planned and coordinated by Single Homeless Project, the Women’s Development Unit (Solace and the Connection at St Martin’s) and St Mungo’s, with the support of London Councils, GLA, the Life Off the Streets Core Group/Women’s Workstream and DLUHC.
Lucy Campbell, Head of Multiple Disadvantage, Single Homeless Project said: “Ending rough sleeping for good means ending rough sleeping for everyone. This can only be achieved if the nature and extent of women’s rough sleeping is fully recognised and responded to with gender informed approaches and provision.
We urge the Government to take action to address this damaging gender inequality and provide the leadership, guidance and resources needed to implement our clear recommendations.”
Michelle Binfield, London Councils’ Rough Sleeping Programme Director, said: “Rough sleeping is particularly dangerous for women. The census is a vital tool for helping us understand the scale of the challenge and for targeting resources for successful prevention and front-line support work.
“Boroughs are proud to be part of the pan-London partnership tackling this issue and doing everything we can to help women off the streets and into safe accommodation.”
Jill Thursby, Women’s Lead, St Mungo’s, said: “Rough sleeping is harmful and dangerous for everyone but especially women. Women often hide from harm which also means they are not only hidden from the statistics, they can also be hidden from help. This research makes excellent recommendations to ensure better support for women in the future. We want to end rough sleeping for good.”
Notes to Editors
- Single Homeless Project helps single Londoners by preventing homelessness, providing support and accommodation, promoting wellbeing, enhancing opportunity, and being a voice for change.
- From supporting people in crisis to helping people take the final steps towards independence and employment, Single Homeless Project makes a difference to 10,000 lives every year across all 32 boroughs.
- London Councils is the collective of local government in London. It is a cross-party group representing all 32 boroughs at the City of London Corporation. For more information visit www.londoncouncils.gov.uk