Homelessness is big news at the moment. Walk through any town centre and you will see homeless people begging, with evidence of their sleeping arrangements, blankets, sleeping bags, piled up beside them. It’s there in front of our eyes and it’s in the media.
Official government figures say that rough sleeping has risen 170% since 2010. And of course rough sleeping is just the tip of the iceberg, a last resort for people who have worn out other options such as friends’ sofas and have not been able to access a hostel.
We often think of homelessness as a male problem, and official statistics show 86% of rough sleepers as male. But research carried out by University of York says that “Women are far more likely to experience homelessness than men”.
The reason for this discrepancy is that women’s homelessness is often hidden. Women are more likely to stay with friends or family, in precarious or overcrowded situations. It is only when this breaks down that women will find themselves sleeping rough. And even then they are the hidden, as women will find safer hidden places to sleep to avoid unwanted attention and abuse. “Women who sleep on the street are subject to “horrendous” treatment, including sexual abuse, violence and stigmatisation …. this drives many to hide themselves in concealed locations, which in turn leads to them being omitted from administrative datasets”, according to research by St Mungo’s quoted in The Independent.
Although pathways into homelessness vary for each individual, many women are survivors of violence or abuse from partners or family members. Research by homelessness charity St Mungo’s in 2014 found that “almost half (47%) of the women it spoke to had experienced domestic violence or abuse from a partner or family member, while 41% had suffered violence or abuse as a child”.
Homelessness Charity Homeless Link have this to say, “AVA (2015) reported that the links between gender-based violence, mental ill health and substance use, are well documented and for many, the trauma associated with violence is managed by substance use. Despite these clear links, safe accommodation is often difficult to access. Few local authority areas have the services in place that respond collectively to women’s multiple disadvantage, experience of violence and homelessness. In some cases where services do exist, they are disconnected from each other, leaving women with few safe options.”
The situation might seem hopeless but there are many places where specialised services are helping women to turning their lives around. St Mungo’s in London say, “The St Mungo’s women’s strategy is about finding and creating ways for women to recover from homelessness. Our research has shown that the causes and experiences of homelessness are different for women, so we know that the solutions for women should be different, too.”
Here at the Coventry Jesus Centre we too recognise the complex needs of the women who seek our help, and that they may be more vulnerable than the men. 82% of women using our Bridge Drop-in are homeless, whereas the figure is only 62% of men. They say that they don’t feel safe on the streets alone and so many stay in abusive relationships. Hostels do not generally offer places for couples so even when the women is offered a bed, which is more likely as she will be deemed as more vulnerable, she may not take it because her partner is not accommodated.
We support homeless women through our Bridge Drop-in and Support Workers. Because we build strong ongoing relationships with women who come we are in a good position to advocate for them with the local Council and other support agencies, helping them to find hostel accommodation.
Low levels of literacy and non-existent IT skills are big barriers to applying for permanent accommodation which mainly has to be done on-line. Helping women to register and bid on Coventry Homefinder has led to some finding a Housing Association flat. Then our ongoing support to help them understand correspondence, or to sort out debt issues, and just persistent encouragement and emotional support helps them to keep their tenancy going.
Minister for homelessness Heather Wheeler MP said: “I recognise that women sleeping rough are even more vulnerable than men. That is why this government is providing additional support including frontline workers trained to support homeless domestic abuse survivors. We have also put bold plans in place, backed by £100m in funding, to halve rough sleeping by 2022 and end it by 2027, as part of a £1.2bn investment in tackling all forms of homelessness.”
We hope this support truly helps women in need, but in the meantime we will continue to support those who come to us for help.
Where to get help if you are female and homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Your Local Council:
If you are classed as having priority need then the Council should help you with emergency accommodation, and on into more permanent accommodation.
In Coventry this is Housing Nominations and Advice Team via Customer Service Centre, 3 Upper Precinct, CV1 1FS, (up ramp from Broadgate). Phone 024 7683 4024/4025.
Other Support Agencies in Coventry:
Coventry Haven: For victims of domestic violence and abuse. Website www.coventryhaven.co.uk. Phone 02476 444 077.
Coventry Panahghar: Emergency accommodation, advice, counselling and support for BME women who are homeless because of domestic violence or abuse within the home. Website: www.safehouse.org.uk. Phone: 024 7622 8952. Email:
Women’s Aid Helpline. Website www.womensaid.org.uk/information-support/helpline. Phone (freephone 24 hr) 0808 2000 247.
Coventry Domestic Violence and Abuse Support Services ( CDVASS): A Coventry helpline to provide support and information for victims, perpetrators, children and young people and professionals. Website www.safetotalk.org.uk. Phone 0800 035 5309.
Coventry Mind for mental health support. Website cwmind.org.uk. Phone 024 7655 2847.