Women who are homeless will often have very different routes, experiences and needs compared to men. Many of the women we support are likely to have spent time ‘hidden homeless’ rather than on the streets, sofa-surfing with friends or family, or trapped in abusive relationships.
Estimates suggest 15% just rough sleepers are women. But sleeping on the streets is particularly dangerous for them, with an increased risk of sexual harassment, intimidation or violence. Women will often stay safe by hiding away from city centres, seeking shelter on buses or A&E departments, meaning they are often underreported in official stats and harder to reach.
Whilst figures vary, nearly half of women in homelessness services have experienced some form of domestic abuse or violence. Figures from our Fulfilling Lives in Islington and Camden service found 95% of their female clients have experienced domestic violence. Many of the women we support will have mental health needs due to additional trauma from childhood, homelessness and the possible removal of children from their care.
The last 18 months has caused a hidden crisis for women who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Women are more likely to be on furlough, have lost their jobs (due to work in industries such as hospitality) and be forced into homelessness due to the surge of domestic violence during lockdowns.
Despite this, conventional homelessness pathways are still generally designed for men, meaning women may often struggle to engage with support on offer. Mixed-sex accommodation is often unsuitable for women, with estimates suggesting only 7-10% of homelessness accommodation is female-focused.
We are truly inspired by the resilience and courage of all the women we work with. As an organisation, we have been working to adapt our support, using a gender-informed approach to identify strategies and elements to better support women facing homelessness, addressing their specific needs and unique trauma.
This ranges from creating female-focused accommodation such as our Project Kali service, forming women-only groups and safe spaces, upskilling staff, and collaborating with other organisations including specialist agencies in the women’s sector. Here we share some of that work.
Tanja tells us what can we do to improve services for women experiencing homelessness
Amy reflects on how women experience homelessness and the importance of addressing female-specific needs when providing support.
Empowering futures was the first project in Redbridge to focus solely on women and their specific needs. In Sophie's time working in Redbridge, she noticed a real lack of support for women who deserved more to help them on their recovery journeys. Find out what she did.
Parminder's little balcony garden is beautiful. Filled with an array of flowers, her potted plant paradise makes a sanctuary of the little space outside her first-floor flat in Redbridge. It’s a far cry from her life on the streets just two years ago.
Nicola runs Single Homeless Projects’ Psychotherapy services. She speaks about how women experience homelessness and the things that can be done to ensure they are offered the right support.
Safe spaces for women can be a rarity in the capital but, as the numbers of female homeless rise and more is learnt about their needs, the value of female-only accommodation sites is starting to be realised