New research reveals women experiencing homelessness are often hidden from help

New research commissioned by St Mungo’s reveals evidence that rough sleeping numbers are ‘almost certainly being undercounted’ and that women are more likely to be missed in official figures.

Sleeping rough is dangerous for everyone, but the report ‘Women and Rough Sleeping’ by academics Joanne Bretherton and Nicholas Pleace from the University of York’s Centre for Housing Policy, gives new evidence of the ‘horrendous’ experiences of women, which often includes sexual abuse, violence and stigmatisation.

The report presents fresh analysis of data from London and across England, alongside new research with women who have slept rough, revealing

  • Women sleeping rough tend to be younger and are significantly more likely than men to be aged 25 or under
  • Women sleeping rough are more likely than men to need support for mental health problems.
  • Women are more likely to sleep rough for short periods than men

Our own data also reveals that women’s homelessness is associated with domestic violence, as a third (33%) of our female residents that slept rough said domestic abuse contributed to them becoming homeless.

Hiding from harm can mean that women are hidden from help, and missing from homelessness services and statistics. Women told the researchers the steps they took to conceal themselves, such as sleeping away from busy town centres or disguising their gender. One woman said:

[I hid in] Wendy houses in back gardens, sheds, empty garages, empty houses that were gonna be demolished…public toilets…wherever. It’s easier to find a shed in someone’s back yard than it is to sit in a doorway and risk getting a beating. That’s why women tend to hide, they think safety first.

The report also investigated how countries across the world count homelessness and rough sleeping, for women and men, and recommends more and improved data collection to better understand the scale and scope of issues that lead people to sleep rough.

St Mungo’s is calling on the government to take urgent action to recognise the issues faced by women living on our streets and do more to support them away from rough sleeping, as well as prevent them becoming homeless in the first place.

Rebecca Sycamore, St Mungo’s Executive Director of Development, said:

Rough sleeping is harmful for anyone, but this report shines on a light on the frightening levels of sexual harassment, abuse and violence being faced by women on the streets

“It’s clear that we don’t have a true picture of the real extent of rough sleeping, and this leaves women at particular risk of harm.”

“The government’s Rough Sleeping Strategy is a good first step. We want to see a dedicated effort made to find out more about women and rough sleeping, involving those with lived experience, and linking in with related work such as the government’s Violence against Women and Girls strategy.”

“We hope this report is a further spur to the government not to miss the crucial need to find and help the hidden women living on our streets.”

Read the summary report or download the full report on our website here.

Women sleeping rough face frightening risks of sexual violence and abuse. They need specialist support to help end their homeless for good. Sign our open letter today and call on the government to give homelessness services the funding they need.