Largest census of women sleeping rough launches in London and across UK

This week, outreach teams across 30 London boroughs and 14 authorities across England will head out to conduct the biggest census of women sleeping rough.

Last year’s census found 154 women sleeping rough in London over five days and the expectation is that these numbers will rise as rough sleeping has increased right across the UK.

The Women’s Rough Sleeping Census, piloted in October 2022 in London, is led by a coalition of leading women’s and homelessness organisations, London Councils and the Greater London Authority (GLA). This year, local authorities will expand the census to include Herefordshire, Gloucestershire, Leeds, Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole, Cambridge, Nottingham, Coventry, Salford, Manchester City, Rochdale, Bury, Oldham, Bolton and Wigan. 

Last year’s report, ‘Making Women Count’, found that experiences of violence and abuse are “near universal” for women who sleep rough, and the average age of death is just 43 years old. This is even younger than their male counterparts (45) and just half as long as most women in the UK are expected to live (89). It made specific calls to action on the Government for system change in the way that women’s rough sleeping is recognised, counted and responded to.

The census organisers hope that this year’s census findings will further evidence the need for gender-informed approaches in policies, strategies and funding and support the development of new practices which can better reach and support women.

Felicity Buchan MP, Minister for Housing and Homelessness joined a briefing on the first day of the census and heard from outreach practitioners about their work to support women. She said:

“The Government takes solving the issues around rough sleeping incredibly seriously. We’ve got an ambition to end rough sleeping for good so the census that is happening this week is critically important in achieving that objective.”   

Felicity Buchan MP, Minister for Housing and Homelessness

Counting women sleeping rough is particularly complex as many women are not in touch with support services and are more hidden than male counterparts. The census, which will be conducted from 25 September to 1 October, uses new methodology and a gender-informed outreach approach to collecting data that truly accounts for women’s experiences. 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. 

The results of the census and recommendations will be launched in early 2024.

Lucy Campbell, Head of Multiple Disadvantage, Single Homeless Project, said: “The consequences of rough sleeping are devastating for women. And the way in which our support systems have been designed actually disadvantages women further. Every woman who might be seeking refuge in cafes, on night buses and on stranger’s floors deserves our support. We hope that the results of our census will shine a light on this and encourage the Government to put in place our recommendations and make a lasting impact.

Michelle Binfield, London Councils’ Rough Sleeping Programme Director, said: “The census gives us a clearer picture of how many women sleep rough in London, as well as wider insight into their experiences and the support they need.

“Improved data is critical for informing our strategic response. Alongside our partners across London’s homelessness sector, boroughs will continue to do everything we can to help women off the streets and into safe accommodation.”

Nahar Choudhury, CEO, Solace Women’s Aid, said “Women who are rough sleeping are often more vulnerable to male violence. They therefore have to take significant steps to stay safe which makes them less visible to support services. Even for those women who reach support they are often not designed to meet their needs, and women can feel let down. The census is crucial in making women visible and ensuring central and local Governments have the right services to support women of the streets.” 

This year the census was planned and coordinated by Single Homeless Project, Solace Women’s Aid and St Mungo’s, with the support of London Councils, GLA, Homeless Link, the Life Off the Streets Core Group/Women’s Workstream and DLUHC. A report on this year’s census will be written by Change Grow Live.

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