report on the results of the first national census of women sleeping rough in England reveals gender bias in Government counts, meaning that women are likely to be significantly underrepresented in rough sleeping data.  

The 2023 data review estimates there may be up to nine times as many women rough sleeping across England than the Government’s annual Rough Sleeping Snapshot suggests. You can read the full report here.

Here women share some of their experiences of rough sleeping:

A coalition of leading women's and homelessness organisations and local authorities around England are calling on the Government for urgent action to address the systemic inequalities that are creating barriers to women accessing support and housing. 

I would roam around and travel on buses. As a female, you can’t just go to the corner of a road and sleep. It’s not safe.

The Women’s Rough Sleeping Census Report sets out findings from a week-long, national census of women sleeping rough in 41 local authorities across England. Outreach teams conducting the census found 815 women, a far higher number than Government counts in those areas indicate. Some local authorities found stark discrepancies 

The table below shows a breakdown of the number of women counted as rough sleeping in the Government count compared to the gender-informed census: 

2023 Government Rough Sleeping Snapshot  Gender-informed women’s census (41 Local Authorities) 
London 159  391
Greater Manchester 5 188
Gloucestershire  0 21
Coventry 1 61
National (All 41 Local Authorities participating in the census 189 815
England 568 815

Counting women sleeping rough is particularly complex as many are not known to outreach services and women are more hidden than male counterparts. This census is gender-informed in its design and creates a more comprehensive and accurate understanding than the existing Government approach. The organisers suggest it may still under-represent the true figure.  

 The new report highlights the ‘hidden’ locations in which women reported sleeping and sheltering, including A&E waiting rooms, on buses or trains, in squats, walking around all night, and staying with strangers. None of these forms of rough sleeping are encompassed within the current government rough sleeping definition, meaning that women’s experiences are not recognised, and their homelessness is less likely to be resolved 

The coalition calls for the Government to change the way that women's rough sleeping is recognised, counted and responded to: 

  • Make homelessness policies gender-informed: Current rough sleeping definitions, strategies and practices are based predominantly on the experiences of men. The government should use the findings from the census to ensure its policy and guidance are gender-informed and provide an equitable response to those who are rough sleeping.
  • Resource and lead the women’s rough sleeping census: The Government should lead the women’s rough sleeping census, supporting every local authority in England to conduct it annually.
  • Conduct an equalities impact assessment: All government data collected on rough sleeping should be subject to an equalities impact assessment to ensure that data collection methods are inclusive of women and minoritised groups.

To read the census report in full

Join our campaign for change: Read our letter to the Government outlining our asks to change the way that women's rough sleeping is recognised and responded to. Contact [email protected] if your organisation or local authority would like to sign.

Partnership Organisations

The Women’s Rough Sleeping Census was led by a coalition of women’s and homelessness organisations including Solace Women’s Aid, Single Homeless Project, London Councils and Homeless Link. The census 2023 report was authored by Change Grow Live. The census has been supported by local authorities and organisations including; the Greater London Authority and London boroughs, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Herefordshire Council, Coventry City Council, Basis Yorkshire, Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole Council, Gloucestershire Housing Partnership, CGL Cambridge and Nottinghamshire County Council.  

Nahar Choudhury, Solace CEO says:The key findings from the census show that Rough Sleeping is inequitable and inherently gender biased and that there is an urgent need for policy reform to ensure fairness, accuracy and inclusivity in data collection, as well as highlighting the need for collaborative efforts between all local authorities to deliver the census in their area, giving a more accurate representation of groups. We know, all too well, the dangers women face when homeless and the well evidenced link between domestic abuse and homelessness. It’s important that policy makers acknowledge this and implement the changes needed.’   

 Lucy Campbell, Head of Multiple Disadvantage at Single Homeless Project said: Since we first launched the census in London in 2022, we have used the results to demonstrate that far more women sleep rough than previously understood and encourage more local authorities to join us and call for action. This year’s results from 815 women around England tell us more about how, when and where they sleep rough. The body of evidence shows that women’s needs are not being met, largely due to current Government policies and practices which are based predominantly on the experiences of men. This is an equalities issue that needs urgent attention from central government so that women experiencing this devastating form of homelessness are not further marginalised by the support systems that are meant to help them.” 

Michelle Binfield, London Councils’ Rough Sleeping Programme Director said: “With London’s homelessness crisis as bad as ever, it’s vital that service providers in the capital have clear and robust information on how many women sleep rough in London. This data is critical for shaping our strategic response and ensuring support services can meet these women’s needs. 

“Alongside our partners across London’s homelessness sector, boroughs are committed to doing all we can to assist women off the streets and into safe accommodation.”  

Sharne Maher, Partnership Manager of the Gloucestershire Housing Partnership, said: “Piloting the census in Gloucestershire in 2023 gave us the opportunity to gather information on women’s experiences of rough sleeping. This data had never been collected before in the county and women were often missed. It provided us with an opportunity, working closely with partners such as the Nelson Trust Women’s Centre and P3, to highlight the gaps, barriers and inequity within our support. It meant we were able to look at how we worked and tailor some of our services towards women. They spoke powerfully of male violence, risk; sexual exploitation and stigma that were connected with their experiences of rough sleeping. It is our job to ensure that women experiencing rough sleeping are no longer hidden from view.” 

Lesley Howard, Head of Homelessness Services at Change Grow Live, said: The Women’s Rough Sleeping Census Report aims to paint a more accurate picture of the number of women experiencing homelessness. We know that women experience homelessness in many diverse ways meaning that they are often missed from traditional street-based interventions. A different methodology is needed if we are to capture the true number of women sleeping rough.  Our findings show the importance of a change in reporting at both a national and local level.