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

The census, the first of its kind on a Pan-London scale, was been designed to improve understanding of the extent and nature of women’s rough sleeping in the capital. It 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.

The census, conducted from 3rd to the 7th of October, used a new innovative 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. It aims to influence local and national responses to ending women’s rough sleeping.

Why did we do the census?

Existing statistics are thought to underestimate significantly 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.

“This census is 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.” - Lucy Campbell, Head of Multiple Disadvantage

Moreover, women who sleep rough are at constant high risk of trauma, violence, abuse, and severe, complex health needs - leaving them in a state of survival. No woman should have to sleep rough and endure these devastating consequences, so getting them off the streets quickly is essential.

You can find out more about how our local services supported the census here.

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 the organisers suggest it 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. 

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 now

Single Homeless Project is part of 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.