On 28th of December 2021, the homelessness charity, Shelter reported on the disproportionate number of women experiencing homelessness. But this issue doesn’t only have roots in the current housing crisis but also in mental health and women’s safety.
60% of all homeless adults living in temporary accommodation in England are women
Shelter’s recent report, ‘Fobbed Off’ has utilised in-depth interviews to reveal the crisis of housing being experienced by women and those of a marginalised gender. The analysis found that despite only making up 51% of the general population women make up a disproportionate percentage of those currently living in temporary accommodation.
A mixture of financial instability and acute pressure on finances due to being a lone mother were mentioned as major contributing factors as to why women are being tipped into homelessness. For those who are already homeless, Shelter interviewed 34 women and a person who identified as non-binary across Birmingham, Bristol and Sheffield to gain their lived experience.
From these interviews, Shelter discovered that a third of respondents has experienced some form of domestic abuse, which was often the trigger for their housing problems. Again, lone mothers experienced the most severe ramifications of homelessness with many expressing anxiety and fear over losing their children if they attempted to access support for their housing status.
One interviewee, Toni, 38 from Birmingham, who became homeless after her relationship broke down said:
“When you’re homeless you don’t even get spoken to like you’re human. Because you’re in temporary accommodation people make assumptions about you. It doesn’t make me feel great, I’m not homeless through any choice of my own. I put on a brave face for the kids, but we can’t live a life in a temporary flat forever. This will be our fourth Christmas spent homeless - every year I say we'll be gone by the next, but we’re still here. Temporary accommodation doesn't feel very temporary when it's been that long. I feel like we've been forgotten about.”
How homelessness and mental health impacts women
A 2017 study by Shelter and ComRes, that partnered with numerous GP practitioners nationwide, found that GPs unprompted and spontaneously identified housing issues as a key factor in their patients mental-ill health.
Housing insecurity can come as a result of mental-ill health and likewise, mental-ill health can come as a result of housing insecurity. As mentioned above, many instances of homelessness in women can be instigated due to relationship issues, this might be owing to domestic abuse, or because a woman has not been able to fully support herself financially, and so when a relationship breaks down the risk of homelessness rises exponentially.
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Poverty it a huge factor in experiencing mental-ill health. The Mental Health Foundation cite that those living in the lowest 20% income bracket are two or three times more likely to develop mental health issues than those who aren’t.
Many of those who are living below the poverty line are those very same people that Shelter explained as ‘tipping’ into homelessness. This is a particularly important factor for how poverty, homelessness and mental health relate to women. Single women, especially single mothers, are the most at risk of living below the poverty line. The recent study by Shelter actually found a staggering statistic that one in 38 lone mothers in England are currently homeless.
This paired with the fact that homeless women are far more likely to have experienced extensive abuse both in childhood and adulthood, as well a being more at risk of sexual assault, harassment and forced prostitution when homeless, means that women are particularly vulnerable, and in turn, their mental health is also extremely vulnerable.
28% of homeless women have formed an unwanted sexual partnership to put a roof over their heads
Addressing this issue is not going to be a simple task, and requires a holistic approach that considers the many different aspects of our society that intersect to result in a woman becoming homeless, from poverty, experiences of discrimination in employment, mental health, experiences of abuse, the lack of social housing and restrictive benefit caps.
Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Shelter said:
“Women are bearing the brunt of our escalating housing crisis, and they are being failed at every turn. No mother should have to choose between buying food or paying her rent. No woman should have to stay with her abuser or face the streets.”
“The hike in living costs and cuts to Universal Credit mean it’s only going to get tougher for thousands of women barely hanging on to their homes. It’s appalling women are being fobbed off by professionals who are supposed to help them, and it’s no wonder they feel scared and alone. If we’re going to turn back the tide on women’s homelessness, we need to listen to women and better understand their needs.”
If you are in need of immediate support, advice or information regarding housing call Shelter on their FREE helpline on: 0808 800 4444.