International Women’s Day is both a time to celebrate the fantastic achievements of women and to consider the challenges still faced by women today. At Emmaus UK we’re proud to have a gender equal trustee board and senior management team. However, we also see the devasting impact that homelessness and social exclusion has on women.

A study from St Mungo’s found that women have been disproportionately hit by changes to the welfare benefit system which has contributed to increasing numbers of women experiencing homelessness. 14% of the people found sleeping rough in the government’s most recent rough sleeping statistics were women. However, there is a strong probability that figures measuring women’s experiences of homelessness underestimate the problem because women are more likely to be concealed or hidden homeless.

Women’s experience of homelessness tends to be different to men’s and as such, women are likely to have more complex needs:

  • Many have deep experiences of trauma and abuse and more significant mental health difficulties than men who experience homelessness (Homeless Link 2017).
  • Almost half are mothers and 79% of these women have had their children taken into care or adopted. Many are traumatised by the loss of their children and struggle to cope with limited contact (St Mungo’s, 2014).
  • Women’s homelessness is very closely associated with domestic abuse: almost half have experienced domestic violence (St Mungo’s, 2014).

Due to women’s different experiences, they often need different forms of support. However, the design and delivery of services has historically been dominated by the experiences of male rough sleepers and so some women avoid homelessness services because they often lack appropriate, physically safe facilities and support for women. There is evidence that these predominantly male services are failing women – women make less progress and have poorer outcomes and many women will rely on informal sources of support from friends, family and acquaintances rather than attempt to access largely male-dominated services. (St Mungo’s, 2018)