25 November 2019

Comment

The facts are that there are increasing numbers of women sleeping rough in London, they are more vulnerable than men, and there are not enough services for them. 

There is currently a lack of support available to homeless women, which is why the Evening Standard’s campaign, launched on November 20, to raise funds for a women-only drop in centre, is so important. 

Due to domestic violence, many female rough sleepers need women-only services to feel safe.

Over the past year, figures from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network show that 1,401 women have been seen sleeping rough in London, a 23 per cent increase on the previous 12 months.  

The number of women sleeping rough is in reality likely to be much higher as the level of danger and violence they face on the streets forces them to make themselves less visible than their male counterparts.

Research shows that to avoid violence women sleep on buses, in hospital waiting rooms and other areas where they are harder to target. But when officials try to count people sleeping rough they do not check these place, so women are under-recorded in rough-sleeping stats. 

These women are hiding from serious violence. While sleeping rough one in four women have been sexually assaulted.

In Westminster, 44 per cent of the women sleeping rough that Westminster Homeless Action Together approached reported being assaulted. 

More homeless women than men — 65 per cent v 53 per cent — reported being verbally abused by a member of the public.

This continues a pattern of violence that many women who are sleeping rough have experienced before in their lives. Research from the University of York and the Centre for Housing Policy says that almost all homeless women have experienced domestic violence prior to becoming homeless.

Even when there is a hostel that can offer them a bed, they are often reserved for those with “low support needs” or who have a local connection. Having experienced violence, many women have fled their local area so do not qualify in their new borough, making themselves ineligible.

The needs of women rough sleepers are hard to meet and they often go without support. The average life expectancy of a female rough sleeper is 43.

We need to end this injustice on our pavements. Women sleeping rough have the potential to have safe healthy lives — but they need women-only homeless provision. Without it, London condemns them to an early death.

Margery Infield is a consultant at New Philanthropy Capital.

Source: Evening Standard