In October 2022, we designed, planned, and coordinated a London-wide women’s rough sleeping census alongside a coalition of leading homelessness and VAWG charities.

The census came on the back of our research into women’s homelessness in Camden, which 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.

Census Findings & Report: Making Women Count

The census found 154 women rough-sleeping in London in a week. This indicates a higher number of women sleeping rough in London than previously believed – and this may still under-represent the true figure. Counting women sleeping rough is particularly complex as many are not in touch with support services and are more hidden than male counterparts.   

Making Women Count, written by social research consultancy Praxis Collab, emphasises that women’s rough sleeping is often transient, intermittent and hidden. This means that women are often not represented in official statistics and, crucially, are often precluded from accessing support and housing. The effects of this inequality of access are severe: experiences of violence and abuse are “near universal” for women who sleep rough, and the average age of death is just 43 years old, even younger than their male counterparts (45). This means women experiencing homelessness are living just half as long as most women in the UK where the most common age of death for is 89. 

Michelle, 45 from North London spent three and a half years sleeping rough before getting help and then coming to Single Homeless Project.

She says: “When I lost my house, I had twenty minutes to get out and I had nowhere to go. I slept in woods, on buses and in hospitals. I had to hide because there were always people shouting at me and men trying to attack me. It was so horrible and I felt like a tramp. I just wanted to survive every day, so I sectioned myself and I even went to prison deliberately just to get off the streets. But when I was released, I was just back out on the streets again. The vulnerability for women is very bad and the trauma I experience from rough sleeping will affect me for the rest of my life.” 

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.  

Find out more about the findings here. You can read the full report here.

Or watch this webinar led by Tom Copley, Deputy Mayor of London for Housing and Development, to learn more about the census methodology, findings, and our calls to action for the Government to address the inequalities faced by women who sleep rough.

Calling on the Government to act

From the 2022, we formed a coalition of leading women's and homelessness organisations committed to addressing the systemic inequalities that prevent women who rough sleep from accessing the support and accommodation they so desperately need. 

The coalition has delivered a letter to the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Housing and Homelessness, calling for a response that recognises the urgent and distinct problems faced by women who are rough sleeping. 

The specific calls to action on the Government are: 

  • Local authorities should be required to deliver an annual Women’s Rough Sleeping Census and report on their findings. 
  • The Government should produce guidance to help local authorities to improve access to rough sleeping services for women, including:
    - Reducing barriers to support and accommodation services for women, including the need to be a verified rough sleeper.
    - Ensuring outreach practices encompass women’s experiences.  

To read the letter and find out more about our calls for action, click here.