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Coalition calls for urgent policy reform on homelessness for women

A new report on women sleeping rough in England reveals gender bias in Government counts, meaning that women are likely to be significantly underrepresented in rough sleeping data.

10/05/24

Coalition calls for urgent policy reform on homelessness for women

A national census of women sleeping rough reveals gender bias in Government counts and rough sleeping policy.

Reviewing data from 2023, researchers estimate there may be up to nine times as many women rough sleeping across England than the Government’s annual Rough Sleeping Snapshot suggests.

A coalition of leading women’s and homelessness organisations and local authorities around England are calling on the Government for urgent action to address the systemic inequalities that are creating barriers to women accessing support and housing.

The Women’s Rough Sleeping Census Report sets out findings from a week-long, national census of women sleeping rough in 41 local authorities across England. Outreach teams conducting the census found 815 women, a far higher number than Government counts in those areas indicate. Some local authorities found stark discrepancies.

The charities involved say that counting women sleeping rough is particularly complex as many are not known to outreach services and women are more hidden than their male counterparts. To combat this, researchers made the census gender-informed in its design to create a more comprehensive and accurate understanding than the existing Government approach. Organisers, however, suggest it may still under-represent the true figure.

The new report highlights the ‘hidden’ locations in which women reported sleeping and sheltering, including A&E waiting rooms, on buses or trains, in squats, walking around all night, and staying with strangers. None of these forms of rough sleeping are encompassed within the current government rough sleeping definition, meaning that women’s experiences are not recognised and their homelessness is less likely to be resolved.

“I would roam around and travel on buses,” one woman responding to the census said. “As a female, you can’t just go to the corner of a road and sleep. It’s not safe.”

The Women’s Rough Sleeping Census was led by a coalition of women’s and homelessness organisations including Solace Women’s Aid, Single Homeless Project, London Councils and Homeless Link. The census 2023 report was authored by Change Grow Live. The census has been supported by local authorities and organisations including: the Greater London Authority and London boroughs, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Herefordshire Council, Coventry City Council, Basis Yorkshire, Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole Council, Gloucester City Council, CGL Cambridge and Nottinghamshire County Council.

Lesley Howard, Head of Homelessness Services at Change Grow Live, said the Women’s Rough Sleeping Census Report aims to paint a more accurate picture of the number of women experiencing homelessness.

“We know that women experience homelessness in many diverse ways meaning that they are often missed from traditional street-based interventions. A different methodology is needed if we are to capture the true number of women sleeping rough. Our findings show the importance of a change in reporting at both a national and local level.”

The coalition calls for the Government to change the way that women’s rough sleeping is recognised by making homelessness policies gender-informed. They also suggest that, going forward, such a census should be carried out by the Government itself.

“The key findings from the census show that Rough Sleeping is inequitable and inherently gender biased and that there is an urgent need for policy reform to ensure fairness, accuracy and inclusivity in data collection, as well as highlighting the need for collaborative efforts between all local authorities to deliver the census in their area, giving a more accurate representation of groups,” Nahar Choudhury, CEO of charity Solace, said. “We know, all too well, the dangers women face when homeless and the well evidenced link between domestic abuse and homelessness. It’s important that policy makers acknowledge this and implement the changes needed.”

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