Homelessness among different groups
Whilst homelessness for both men and women is often caused by a combination of events, the triggers and experiences of women's homelessness tend to be of a distinct nature.
In the single homeless population, women are in the minority. In England, women make up 30 per cent of clients of homelessness services.
There are high levels of vulnerability within the female homeless population - mental ill-health, drug and alcohol dependencies, childhoods spent in care, experiences of sexual abuse and other traumatic life experiences are all commonplace. Homeless women are also likely to have greater levels of mental illness than men as a result of physical and sexual abuse.
Interviews with homeless women conducted by Crisis showed that over 20% became homeless to escape violence from someone they knew, with the majority of these (70%) fleeing violence from a partner.
Turned away at the door
Crisis research found that the majority of homeless women have negative experiences of approaching local authorities, with many being ‘turned away at the door' or deterred by front-line staff from making a homelessness application. Of those women who did make a homelessness application, less than one third were awarded priority need status. It is not surprising therefore that many women are reluctant to seek support and over a third of homeless women did not approach their local authority for help or could not remember doing so.
Women rough sleepers
According to homelessness agencies, 11% of rough sleepers in London are women but this is likely to be an underestimate. Rough sleeping is extremely dangerous for homeless women - many have been physically attacked, verbally abused and sexually assaulted. Women respond to these dangers by making efforts to 'remain invisible', choosing places to sleep which are hidden from view and disguising their homeless status in some way.
Not only does this make it difficult to estimate the numbers of women rough sleepers, it also means that those women who are sleeping rough are less likely to be accessing the help and support they need. Whilst 60% of homeless women have slept rough, only 12% had engaged with street outreach teams.
It is also likely that, at any given time, there are also many women staying in 'hidden', informal and marginalised homeless accommodation situations. Crisis' interviews with homeless women found an alarming number engaging in unwanted sexual liaisons in order to secure accommodation, such as prostitution or going back to old, potentially abusive, partners.
Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers
People come to the UK for a whole range of reasons, some to make a better life for themselves; some to earn money to send back home; and some to escape countries where they have experienced violence, torture, rape, or loss of family members.
Whilst the vast majority will not become homeless, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable to homelessness. This is due to a range of factors, both personal and structural, including a lack of support networks, such as friends and family, to turn to in a time of crisis; difficulties with language and a lack of familiarity with the British system and not being entitled to benefits and services.
Refugees and asylum seekers who have experienced torture or war are known to have high rates of mental disorder. Refugees from the war-torn East African country of Eritrea now represent 2% of those sleeping rough on the streets of London.
The vast majority of migrants from the A8 and A2 Accession States (Poland, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Romania and Bulgaria) do successfully find employment and accommodation in Britain, however, A8/A2 migrants have to work for a year before they have recourse to public funds. Those A8/A2 migrants who have lost their job or who have not been able to find work are therefore at high risk of becoming destitute and homeless. Perhaps unsurprisingly then, there is a significant minority of A8/A2 migrants in the rough sleeper population. In London for example, about 22% of rough sleepers are from A8/A2 countries.