Single Homeless Project has collaborated with a coalition of leading women's and homelessness organisations to plan and deliver a London-wide women’s rough sleeping census.

The census, the first of its kind on a Pan-London scale, has been designed to improve understanding of the extent and nature of women’s rough sleeping in the capital, and aims to influence local and national responses to ending women’s rough sleeping.

Existing statistics are thought to greatly underestimate the number of women who are rough sleeping. Women’s rough sleeping is often hidden and intermittent, and existing data collection methods have been developed without women’s experiences in mind, so fail to capture the true scale of the issue.

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 and St Mungo’s, with the support of London Councils, GLA, the Life Off the Streets Core Group/Women’s Workstream and DLUHC.

Out of sight, out of mind?

The census comes on the back of our existing research into women’s homelessness in Camden, which reported that women's homelessness occurs on a far greater scale than is generally recognised, but is often hidden.

The report, which recently won a Homeless Excellence Award for Stronger Voice, also found that this reduced visibility had left many women living in a state of survival, experiencing high levels of trauma, violence and abuse.

The report explicitly noted the need for better data collection to evidence the scale of women’s rough sleeping, and the need for better integration between homelessness and VAWG services and sectors.

Lucy Campbell, SHP’s Head of Multiple Disadvantage said: “Our research with the University of York last year made it clear that the widespread assumption that lone adult homelessness is predominantly male is almost certainly false.

“This census is giving us a real opportunity to quantify and understand women’s rough sleeping more accurately for the first time – and the partnership of organisations involved means that the findings will have the potential to action significant systemic change.”

Single Homeless Project is funding researchers at PraxisCollab, who have supported the development of the census methodology. They will analyse the findings and produce an independent report by the end of 2022.

Local services

The census was conducted by a wide range of services from across London. In Redbridge, SHP’s Steet Outreach team, supported by volunteers, conducted a day-long gender-informed shift across the borough.

The team targeted locations such as local parks, bin storage areas, back alleys, and other more hidden spaces during the early hours of the day and the evening. Women forced to rough sleep often move to these quieter areas, away from town centres, to try and reduce the risk to their personal safety.

Every woman engaged was also offered a gift card and toiletry bag, but most importantly, those open to support will now be working with our female-focused Navigator, aiming to find them temporary accommodation and ongoing support to help them leave homelessness behind. 

Our commitment to women

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 hope that the findings of the census and the recommendations of the report will provide the evidence needed to mandate a clear commitment to understanding and responding to women’s rough sleeping in Government strategy.

Find out more about our work with women experiencing homelessness here.