Homelessness is complex. People who experience homelessness often face other disadvantages that cause, compound, or contribute to becoming homeless. Women in particular often face multiple disadvantages that exacerbate the experience of homelessness.  

Here are five disadvantages that can compound the experience of homelessness for women:

  1. Domestic abuse.

Our research has found domestic abuse is a near-universal experience for women pushed into homelessness. But that’s not the whole story. The threat of rough sleeping can trap women in abusive relationships, increasing exposure to violent incidents and trauma. Many women, like our client Charlotte, feel they have no choice but to stay with an abusive partner to keep a roof over their heads, only leaving when they are at breaking point.

  1. Insecure housing.

65% of all Londoners in temporary accommodation are women. Women are more vulnerable to being pushed into temporary accommodation or informal arrangements like sofa surfing with family or friends due to economic factors such as insecure work and caring responsibilities for children.

  1. Hiding from harm. And from help.

Women forced to rough sleep are incredibly vulnerable, facing a constant risk of violence, abuse, and exploitation. This causes them to hide away from city centres to stay safe, in hospital toilets, on night buses and in dark alleys. Consequently, women are also hidden from outreach services and face more barriers to accessing support.  

  1. Mental health issues.

Women who experience homelessness are at least three times more likely than women in the general population to have mental health issues This isn’t surprising – the stress and pressure of experiencing homelessness or living in insecure housing can cause or exacerbate poor mental health.  

Women who experience homelessness are more vulnerable to prolonged and severe mental ill health due to other traumatic experiences, from gender-based violence, to domestic abuse, to child removal.

  1. Motherhood: from periods to pregnancy.

Periods are extremely difficult for women to manage when sleeping rough. Without money for sanitary products or access to proper washing facilities, women resort to makeshift solutions and public washing. Not only does this increase risk of physical health issues, but it can trigger feelings of shame, embarrassment and insecurity, further impacting mental wellbeing.

Women may have caring responsibilities or become pregnant while experiencing homelessness. In fact, one in every 38 lone mothers in England is homeless, making this group one of the hardest hit by homelessness. It is not uncommon for women experiencing homelessness to have had a child removed from their care. Having children removed, particularly when it is permanent, can be deeply traumatic. It often compounds other traumas for mothers, worsens mental ill health and can increase substance misuse as a coping mechanism.

We have been working with women experiencing homelessness for almost 50 years. We are doing everything we can to help women experiencing homelessness across London overcome their unique challenges to live the life they desire. 

We’re working in partnership with leading women’s and homelessness organisations to advocate for the Government to act on gender inequality in homelessness services and open more women-only services across so women get the tailored support they need and deserve. 

No woman should have to hide. And every woman deserves to be treated with dignity, to be seen and heard, and to feel safe from harm.