Before I researched and wrote Invisible Women, I thought what a lot of people think: homelessness affects men more than women. It’s a fair assumption: you are more likely to see a homeless man on the street than a homeless woman, and of course, the official data does represent it as a male-dominated problem. But, as I discovered, “there is reason to doubt the official data on this issue.”
Homelessness is usually measured by counting those who use homeless services, but this approach only works if men and women are equally likely to use these services, and they aren’t. Women made homeless as a result of domestic violence are often likely to seek refuge in domestic-violence shelters rather than homeless shelters. In the UK this means that they will not be counted as homeless. They are also likely to live in precarious arrangements with other people, ‘without their own front door, privacy and their own living space, and without access to any housing of their own to which they have a legal right’. Sometimes, as witnessed by the recent rise in ‘sex for rent’ agreements across the UK, they will, like women in refugee camps, be sexually exploited.
According to Canadian research, women fall into these precarious arrangements because they don’t feel safe in the official emergency accommodation, especially when it’s mixed sex. And these safety issues are not a product of women’s imaginations: the CCPA calls the levels of violence experienced by women in shelters ‘staggering’. Supposedly ‘gender-neutral’ services that are ‘presumed to be equally accessible for men and women’, concludes the CCPA, ‘actually put women at significant risk’. (Invisible Women, p.307)
Ever since writing those paragraphs I have become ever more frustrated with lazy gender neutral approaches to homelessness that don’t account for the female experience – despite the fact that women are actually *more likely than men to experience homelessness*.
So you can imagine my delight when GFP Caroline (no not me, ANOTHER GFP CAROLINE 😱) got in touch to tell me about a project she was involved in called 18 Keys
: “a capital fundraising project to address the lack of intensive support for women who have experienced long term street homelessness”
These women are often harder for outreach teams to find as they seek out night buses, libraries, A&E departments, airports, or anywhere they judge to be safer than the street. The fact women are also intimidated by the overwhelmingly male environment of hostels and day centres means they are considerably less visible and so much harder to support.
We know from the data available, including these shocking life expectancy statistics, that women sleeping rough tend to be in poorer mental and physical health than their male counterparts.
The project is led by Campaign Committee comprising 18 women from diverse backgrounds and with a great range of talents and expertise and it is currently at the design and planning stage – which means you can make a real impact. 18 Keys, 18 campaign committee members, 18 studio apartments when it is finished.
So what is your homework, you ask, the massive keenos that you are. GIVE US HOMEWORK!
And second: if you want to get involved, or know someone who should, get in touch
That’s it! Easy as pie, don’t say I never do anything for you 😘