Publish Date:25 April 2023
Addressing the unique challenges of women experiencing homelessness
Let’s talk about the recent International Women’s Day!
No argument from us…it was an awesome opportunity to celebrate the amazing achievements of women all around the world. But to stop there is selling it waaaaay short of its powerful role in bringing about change. Change in the shape of equality for women. And change in the shape of eliminating the many challenges women face, here in Aotearoa and around the world, that stop them from living their best life.
The sad reality is that women often must navigate additional challenges in life, such as poverty, family violence, health problems, lack of access to hygiene facilities, higher rates of assault, and lack of affordable housing. This makes it harder for them to find employment, maintain housing, and support themselves and their families.
The result? Many women find themselves homeless.
Causes of women’s homelessness
To date, women’s homelessness has been largely informed by male experience.
That’s simply not helpful.
The experiences of women are often vastly different from men. The Severe Housing Deprivation Report showed that while women and men face similar deprivation rates, women are more likely to be living in shared and overcrowded accommodations. This masks their true situation, making them less visible than people who sleep rough.
Women are exposed to overlapping forms of discrimination due to race, class, sexual orientation, and gender identity. The past and present impacts of colonisation – resulting in an overrepresentation of Māori experiencing homelessness – highlight this (check out this 2021 study). Additionally, Māori wahine experience significant discrimination in the housing market and high rates of imprisonment – both are drivers of homelessness.
Four out of five women experiencing homelessness are Māori
And you’re probably not surprised to learn that Māori women are not alone when it comes to discrimination in the housing market. Recent research with a group of ethnic women in the Waikato identified the housing stresses they face. Take a deep breath, you’ll need it to get through this list: high cost of renting a home, lack of secure tenure, low sense of community-connection with neighbours, inability to accommodate children’s needs in terms of a safe place to plan, lack of garden space, and lack of family-friendly housing. This research also highlighted that ethnic women also suffer from discrimination in the housing market.
Women often earn less than men and have limited access to education and job opportunities, which often leads to financial instability. Women experiencing poverty are also more likely to experience domestic violence or abuse, which can force them to flee their homes.
Phew, that’s quite a roll call of causes!
If we want to provide the necessary resources and support to help women live safely and with dignity, we must address these underlying causes of women’s homelessness.
So how do we do that? Read on.
Strategies for dealing with women’s homelessness
Providing affordable housing is a good place to start as it’s key to eliminating women’s homelessness. When we provide access to affordable housing, women have a safe and stable place to live. They then have a foundation for achieving their goals such as finding employment, studying, or accessing healthcare. At Housing First Auckland, we believe that access to affordable housing is a fundamental human right and an important element of any solution to address women’s homelessness.
It’s essential to provide culturally tailored, needs-based support services for women experiencing homelessness – especially those who are also mothers. Our Housing First Auckland data shows that most of the women we house have dependent children, and their lived experiences of homelessness can differ greatly. To successfully reduce homelessness, we need to take a thoughtful, individualised approach.
At the same time, we need to tackle the systemic issues that caused the crisis in the first place. Gender inequality, pay disparities, domestic violence, and racism are all linked to women’s experiences of homelessness. We must work to create gender equality by advocating for policies that support women. Then everyone will have access to affordable housing and resources.
By working together to address the systemic issues and provide a pathway to empowerment and stability, we can support women out of homelessness and on to achieving their life aspirations.
International Women’s Day is a great reminder of the work we can, and should, be doing every day!