Kent has a hidden female homelessness crisis

8 March 2019

seeing-the-unseen

Open your eyes to the hidden crisis of women sleeping rough in Kent.

Today, on International Women's Day, we're highlighting the fact that opportunities to help women rough sleepers are being missed. 

Forty women bravely shared their stories with us: the desperate struggle to survive, the constant threat of violence and abuse. Their words have told us that we need to do more and led to the publication of our report into this urgent issue.

National figures show that Kent has one of the highest rates of female rough sleepers in the UK.  Women live in fear of being exploited, attacked or worse but are less visible than men who are sleeping on the streets. We're calling for changes to the way vulnerable women are helped.

Our new report ‘Seeing the Unseen’ explores why women are falling through the gaps in support to become trapped in a cycle of trauma and homelessness. It shows that:

  • Many women who are on the streets have experienced trauma and abuse both before and during homelessness. They live in fear of being attacked, exploited or worse. 
  • 91% of women who experienced violence or sexual abuse while sleeping rough did not report it to the police, primarily because they did not feel they would be believed or were too afraid. 
  • Separation from children has a devastating effect but too often women have to cope with this loss with little, or no emotional or personal support.  
  • Multiple levels of trauma can lead to a cycle of abusive relationships, mental and physical ill health, the use of drugs and alcohol, self-harm and suicidal thoughts, making the journey out of homelessness complicated and challenging. 
  • Managing mental health and personal hygiene is very difficult. 

“Women rough sleepers are the least visible of all people who are homeless, but one-in-five of the people Porchlight worked with on the streets last year was female,” says Porchlight’s Dr Sue Hornibrook.

“Complex histories of violent relationships and abuse, sometimes stemming from childhood, can result in pattern-forming behaviour which means women may enter into abusive relationships on the street for security and companionship, or to get a roof over their heads.

“Many are devastated by separation from their children. This, alongside the constant fear of violence and assault, combines to make women rough sleepers among the most vulnerable people in our society. We are grateful to the women who showed such courage in sharing their stories. Their words have told us that we need to do more.”

Our findings show that opportunities to help women on the streets are being missed, partly because homelessness support services are designed predominantly for men. It has committed to:

  • Create a women’s services development post within the organisation to improve the support available to women.
  • Set up a ‘rapid rehousing fund’ for women rough sleepers.
  • Recruit specialist outreach workers to help female rough sleepers off the streets.
  • Ensure all Porchlight staff receive sufficient training to manage the complex needs of women rough sleepers.
  • Develop Kent’s first female Housing First model (Housing First provides permanent accommodation for people straight from the streets).
  • Commission further research into the needs of women rough sleepers.

Dr Hornibrook says: “As the county’s leading homelessness charity, it is our duty to invest in services that consider the unique challenges facing women and provide them with the tools and support they need to redirect their lives.”