INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY 2023
7 minute read
Each year homelessness affects tens of thousands of women. In the past decade, the number of homeless women living in temporary accommodation has almost doubled from 40,030 in 2011 to 75,410 today (2021) – an 88% rise*. Yet despite this real and growing issue, what many people still fail to recognise is that a woman’s experience of homelessness is often very different to what we might assume.
Women face a number of challenges that are unique to them, and these challenges can have a huge impact on their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. Things such as period poverty, gender-based violence, sexual abuse and verbal abuse are all common experiences for these women. With a blanket, one-size-fits all approach to helping people in a situation of homelessness, we miss these small, nuanced differences which could make the world of difference to a woman in need.
Homeless Link UK put it this way, "Women are not a homogenous group and it is important to recognise how the experience of women of colour, trans women, queer and disabled women among many other [women] may be different from each other. In order to provide effective support to women, it is important to explore how their lives are impacted by forms of structural violence which shape their experiences of homelessness and their relationship to services."
But how do we step in and help these women? Well, with a day such as International Women’s Day upon us, it’s a great opportunity to learn more.
Let’s begin with the basics:
1. What leads women into a situation of homelessness?
There are many reasons why women may fall into a situation of homelessness, but the most common factors include:
- Domestic violence
- Sexual and emotional abuse
- Pay and job opportunity disparity
- Single motherhood
- Family exile (this is particularly common among individual’s whose sexual and gender preferences are not accepted by their family)
- As well as poor mental health
While many of these issues are a product of the society we live in, there are still small things all of us can do to make a difference.
What can I do to help?
One of the easiest ways to make a difference is to use your voice to speak up for the women who may be experiencing one of these issues. For more sensitive cases such as violence or abuse, you can anonymously report the situation to the National Abuse Hotline or SAFE.
For those who are single mothers and seem to be struggling with the responsibilities of motherhood, offer a helping hand and see if there’s anything you can do to support them.
And for women who are struggling with less visible challenges such as mental health issues, offer to be a trusted person whom they can speak to. In more serious cases, help them find a qualified expert who is able to help them through their difficult situation.
2. What are the biggest needs among women who are currently experiencing homelessness?
Period poverty remains one of the most neglected issues facing women experiencing homelessness. Did you know that most charities do not receive any funding to help them purchase menstrual supplies? Yet these essential, basic supplies are often costly and unaffordable for many women. As a result of the lack of accessibility of free menstrual products and the inability to afford purchasing them, many women are left without any products to help them during their period. This forces them to use other means such as old, dirty rags, newspapers and other inadequate items, all of which can cause infection, disease and embarrassment.
Other issues include safety and shelter, both of which are hard to come by for many women in a situation of homelessness. As a result many women in situations of homelessness experience abuse and exploitation in exchange for one of these things.
What can I do to help?
There are many charities that are committed to helping women in homelessness, and who provide first-hand support to women in need. You can volunteer your time to help at these charities or you can donate sanitary items. You can also speak to them to find out what other female care items they need if you’d like to make a donation.
If you see a woman who is affected by rough sleeping, you can offer to provide her with female care products, or, if you see a woman who may look like a victim of abuse you can call a help centre on her behalf.
3. Who is helping women experiencing homelessness?
Although there is a huge need for support for women experiencing homelessness, there are many incredible charities and organisations who are committed to helping women in these difficult situations. They provide support, shelter and guidance for women affected by various forms of homelessness and, ultimately, create a safe and supportive environment for them.
These organisations are extremely important and the role they play in our society is huge. We are proud to have partnered with many of these organisations who have helped bring our Wear One, Share One to life.
While there are far more, here are a few of the organisations we have loved working with:
WIH is an amazing organisation that is committed to helping people experiencing homelessness. While they support people of all kinds, they work hard to ensure women are treated with the care and nuance they need.
Each year they host an event called ‘She Inspires’ which is an opportunity for like-minded individuals and experts to come together and discuss how we can better support and prevent female homelessness. Last year we were invited to speak at this event and we were honoured to be among so many inspiring individuals passionate about helping women in need.
Here is a poem we wrote as part of our presentation at the She Inspires event.
They say they need us,
But too quickly they discard us.
They claim to see us,
Yet too often they turn away from us.
We didn’t ask to be here,
We didn’t pursue this life.
But when it delt us a bad hand,
Society deemed us bad people.
So now, where does that leave us?
On the street corners you pass like clockwork each day,
Or the shopfronts you slide into in the race to empty your wallets.
Sometimes we fall through the cracks of an overwhelmed system, out of sight, out of mind,
And out on our own.
Often we wonder how we do it?
How do we do it when every second feels like a fight to get through it?
Tick tock, tick tock.
But deep down we dig for that grit that keeps us going,
That spirit that makes us strong.
And though we’re knocked down and out and left and right,
Our flicker of strength becomes the song we sing to keep us holding on.
But now the question is, will you listen?
Will you give your ear and lend your eyes to the cries of the women society has forgotten.
Will you look long enough and hard enough to see that we are not simply homeless, we are human.
And when you give us the best of your humanity, we’ll show you the best of ours.
The Marylebone Project is a London-based charity focused on helping women experiencing homelessness in London and beyond. The charity provides emotional and practical support for women in situations in homelessness. Their two key means of support include hostel accommodation and resettlement support, as well as their drop-in centre called The Sanctuary which offers 24/7, year-round support.
The Soup Kitchen is an amazing organisation based in the heart of London. It provides a meal service, a therapy unit offering mental health support, and a place for their guests to find and establish community. Many of those who rely on the Soup Kitchen for support are women, and the Soup Kitchen never fails to go the extra mile to provide these women with the care and support they need. It is truly a safe haven for many women in need across London.
Simon Community, NI is one of our longest-standing Giving Partners and an incredible organisation who works tirelessly to help people experiencing homelessness in Belfast.
Among its other work, Simon Community runs something called the Women’s Advocacy Project which seeks to help women in situations of homelessness by providing individual and group advocacy support. The Women’s Advocacy Project will help women with:
- Trauma & Abuse
- Complex Needs
- Relationships & Children
- Stigma & Shame
- Access to Services
St. Mungo’s is an organisation that works tirelessly to advocate for and support people experiencing homelessness of varying degrees. They help these individuals to work through issues of mental health, drug or alcohol addiction, feelings of isolation and so much more. Across 2020 and 2021, St Mungo’s helped 31,620 people experiencing homelessness across their 207 services.
Additionally, St Mungos is passionate about advocating for women experiencing homelessness. In 2018 they published a review about the difficulties that challenge women in a situation of rough sleeping that provides a huge amount of insight into what the issues are and how we can help them. You can read more here!
St Mungos is dedicated to championing these vulnerable individuals with the help and support they need to break their cycle of homelessness and OutsideIn is honoured to partner with them.