Homeless and broken: how women are catching up with men
Charities are reporting a worrying increase in the number of female rough sleepers. Neasa MacErlean investigates the latest and most worrying closure of the gender gap
Friday 13 December 2013
In 11 days’ time, the Christian world will celebrate the most famous case of homelessness of the last two millennia. But, despite all our progress since then, homelessness is still a widespread problem in the UK. In fact one in 10 people have been homeless at some point in their life, research published today by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation has revealed.
Distressingly, homelessness is a growing problem for women. More than a quarter of residents at St Mungo’s is female, for instance. The charity estimates that one in ten rough sleepers in London is a woman.
Statistics from the Department for Communities and Local Government show that half of adults in temporary accommodation are women. Most of them are single parents and are being housed with their children.
But it was not always like this. George Orwell, in his 1933 autobiographical account of life on the streets, Down and Out in Paris and London, wrote of a huge imbalance. “Tramps are cut off from women... because there are very few women at their level of society,” he wrote.
“One might imagine that among destitute people the sexes would be as equally balanced as elsewhere. But it is not so; in fact, one can almost say that below a certain level society is entirely male.”
How shocked he would have been to come back in 2013 and find that 35 per cent of clients in the Porchlight refuges in Kent are female. It is difficult to imagine that anyone would see this example of growing parity between the sexes as an advance.
Porchlight provides a statistic which is, perhaps, the most disturbing of all. Mark Parry, its spokesman, explained: “The gender split with our younger service users – 16 to 21-year-olds – tends to be 50/50, although they are unlikely to have been rough sleepers and more likely to have left/been forced to leave home and sofa-surfed at a friend’s house.” There is one piece of relative good news, however. The trend has been recognised, the problems are being analysed and they will be the subject of a major political lobbying campaign in 2014.
St Mungo’s is now concluding an 18-month research project into the field, “Rebuilding Shattered Lives”, and will present this to the Government and the public in March; it will push for some implementation during the rest of the year.
What St Mungo’s – founded in 1969 – discovered even about its own services were that they followed a male model which was far less likely to work for women. When they examined their own results they found that outcomes for female clients were much more negative than those for men.
Its research included a survey over five years of deaths of people in London who had experienced rough sleeping. The average age of death for women was 39, and for men it was 45. As a percentage of expected lifespan, women got to 42 per cent, and men to 57 per cent.
So why are women generally not responding to the traditional recovery programme? “Women’s problems are more complicated and they run deeper,” said Alexia Murphy, head of the St Mungo’s women’s project. Men, she explained, may typically have one main reason for ending up without a roof – having left the Army, perhaps, or having been rejected by their wives.
Treatment can focus largely on practical issues – such as getting homeless people an appointment at the Jobcentre. But women “will do anything to not end up homeless”, Ms Murphy added. Women will know that sleeping in the gutter, or even on sofas, raises the sexual risks – of rape, reluctant sex and desperate prostitution. Some 41 per cent of female rough sleepers have prostituted themselves.
Females are likely to arrive on the street after a long, slow decline, stretching from childhood. Domestic violence is a common theme, and is a reason cited by some 35 per cent of St Mungo’s female clients as to why they finally left home.
Women tend to have a host of problems – including substance abuse (for 55 per cent of them, according to St Mungo’s), mental health issues (66 per cent), a record of offending (53 per cent) and a prison history (36 per cent).
And 28 per cent of them, according to Crisis, will have slept with someone just to get a bed for the night. “Men come in and are more motivated to make a change because they’ve fallen less far,” Ms Murphy said. “The idea of getting back into work isn’t such a far off memory.
“But the women are emotionally, physically and mentally shattered. We work with people who’ve been failed by children’s services and have been failed again by adult services. We’ve changed the way we work. We now go back with them to that point, to the start.”
The misery of the 45 per cent of homeless women who are mothers is even more painful to hear about. When they have lost their children many lose all sense of direction.
Ms Murphy quotes a mother whose son was taken into care. That mother said: “Why would I address my drug issues when my first thought each day is whether my son is alive or dead?”
The St Mungo’s campaign already has the support of 300 other organisations – ranging from the University of Coventry’s research team on female rough sleepers to DrugScope and Action for Children.
One of the most difficult issues this voluntary sector consortium faces is identifying why sofa-surfing is on the rise and what it means to those individuals long-term. It might sound innocuous, but it becomes dangerous if it lasts for more than a few days.
At best, it can cause stress in relationships with family and friends. And it can easily mean that the women feel pressurised to offer sex.
With the world outside, it is likely to mean having no fixed address for medical, work and benefits purposes. Young people of both sexes may be facing bigger challenges in starting out than the generations just before them.
Unemployment is three times as high for 16 to 24-year-olds – 21 per cent in the three months to September – than it is for the population overall, where it is 7.6 per cent. And some benefits are lower for young adults than others. Housing benefit for the single under 35s was pushed down in January 2012.
But these statistics do not explain why more young woman are becoming homeless. One crucial issue is the cutbacks in help being offered to women. Homelessness resources targeted at women – including the availability of women’s refuges – fell 40 per cent in 2011/12, according to St Mungo’s.
This is the time of year when many of us think of the homeless. Crisis at Christmas, with the aid of thousands of volunteers and donors, helped 3,400 people in London and 275 in Newcastle last year.
Of the homeless women at those Christmas celebrations, the St Mungo’s statistics suggest that one in ten was pregnant or had recently given birth – another echo of the Nativity story, and another reason to help today’s young nomadic mothers.
CASE STUDY: GEMSKII
The St Mungo’s charity has released a Christmas song this year, a version of Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody”, sung by Gemskii. The 42-year-old singer, actress and performer believes that she has finally turned her life around after a depression that she thinks lasted 30 years.
Gemskii had a mother and grand-mother to care for her, but there was a high degree of dysfunction in her upbringing, including violence and sex abuse from a very young age. After leaving school and home, Gemskii was supported by one partner after another. The tough rules of dependency became clear – involving some violence from one girlfriend after Gemskii was caught “shagging about”.
For a while she also had accommodation tied to a job, and she has slept on the floor of an office where she worked. But her situation deteriorated and she ended up sleeping in doorways. “It’s an incredibly long day and an incredibly long night when you are street homeless,” she says. “You need something to knock you out.”
Arrested for possession of drugs at 29, she was finally given an address and introduced to St Mungo’s.
Very gradually she started learning and recovering her self-esteem. Now she lives in a flat owned by the charity. She has a BA and works for a letting agent, maintaining some of their flats: “I’m wonderfully grateful because I’m not suffering.”
20 December 2012 09:07 AM
20 December 2012 09:10 AM
Fee-free, expert mortgage advice:
- Find the right mortgage for you
- Latest best-buy deals
- Mortgage calculators
Will your credit card rewards be scrapped following new EU rules on charges?
Bargain Hunter: First Utility's Cosy deal lets you heat your home from anywhere
What would happen if you put a statistician in a casino with £1m?
Simon Read: 'The fight must go on over equality on expat pensions'
Pension freedoms: How to deal with cold calls from scammers
- 1 Top 20 misconceptions people believe are true
- 2 'We're not heroes, just tourists': Swedish police officers on holiday stop vicious assault on New York subway
- 3 Black Mass trailer: Johnny Depp might have started making good films again
- 4 Jacob Lescenski and Anthony Martinez: Straight student asks gay friend to High School prom and makes a million Twitter friends
- 5 Australian student Tommy Connolly, 23, adopts his pregnant, homeless 17-year-old cousin to give her a chance at 'a better life'
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Katie Hopkins on LBC: Listen to caller taking The Sun columnist to task over migrant comments
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
Rupert Murdoch berated Sun journalists for not doing enough to attack Ed Miliband and stop him winning the general election
iJobs Money & Business
£50000 - £55000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Analyst - Financial Service...
£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: At SThree, we like to be differe...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is the o...
£22000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...
Day In a Page
This six-bedroom home is set amongst three acres of grounds. Currently a large family home, Clift Hill has potential to make a B&B, subject to change of use permissions.
A former period coach house, Glebe Farm Stable is now a three-bedroom cottage with a double car barn, office, kennels and an outbuilding that's currently used as a gym.
Set sail for this four-bedroom farmhouse in Cowes. With five acres of land and an indoor pool, this home oozes character. There is even potential to let a one-bedroom annexe.
Surrounded by woodland, this five-bedroom manor house has plenty of outdoor storage space in the form of three converted loose boxes, two smaller outhouses and a woodstore.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with a double carport, useful workshop, garden and two walkways that offer views of the adjacent countryside.
With space for an equestrian business, a greenhouse for growing your own veg, a wine store and a gym; this five-bedroom home has all the ingredients for a country retreat.
This four-bedroom home has exposed brick chimneys and a vaulted ceiling in a breakfast room that's ideal for summer entertaining - the doors open to the patio and garden.
The decked roof terrace of this two-bedroom flat is perfect for summer drinks while large windows and ample storage space make for a light and spacious interior.
Surrounded by approximately 15 acres of grounds, this six-bedroom grade II-listed home has been extensively refurbished yet retains many period features.
This four-bedroom home comes with a two-bedroom cottage and commercial office, with planning to extend, in a stunning courtyard setting.
In a pretty Norfolk village, this four-bedroom family home is surrounded by landscaped gardens, with even a self-contained annex for guests.
A few miles from the seaside at Perranporth, this four-bedroom farmhouse sits amongst nine acres of idyllic grounds - including a lake and two barns used as holiday lets.
This five-bedroom home is arranged over three floors of a converted Victorian hospital, offering spectacular views of the Pentland Hills - only three miles from the city centre.
This four-bedroom detached home comes with grounds that span to approximately 2.5 acres, as well as two large patio areas and a double garage.
This four-bedroom cottage is a Grade II-listed town house, well-located for the thriving market town of Nailsworth.
A four-bedroom apartment on the ground floor of a stunning period property in North Yorkshire, with two kitchens and a large south-west facing garden.
This high-spec two-bedroom home is part of a smart collection of new flats at Beaufort Park and has a large decked balcony that's perfect for summer drinks.
Capitalise on the fabulous views of Trevone Bay by taking two homes and creating one spacious boutique B&B. Just a cliff-top walk from Padstow.
Overlooking a golf course, this six-bedroom Edwardian detached home spans four storeys and retains many period features including the original, operational servants' bells...
On the edge of the city, this six-bedroom home comes with an outdoor swimming pool and a large garage block that has annexe potential.
In a Grade II-listed manor just outside of Bath, this three-bedroom home is arranged on two floors with a skylight in a vaulted roof line.
Open the living room's bi-fold wooden doors to reveal a retro-style kitchen, and a conservatory leading to a paved garden at this three-bedroom home.
A Grade II-listed, four-bedroom home, in a charming Somerset village, with a two-storey studio that could be converted into a holiday cottage
A modern four-bedroom Victorian home, within walking distance to the high street
A luxury apartment in the Gothic mansion of Wyfold Court in Kingwood, offers six bedrooms spread over three floors and a turret
This school conversion, near Stockwell Tube, oozes New York loft style. The one-bedroom flat features double height ceilings and exposed brick work
This six-bedroom Georgian home is on three floors with open fireplaces, a two-oven Aga, an annexe, and cottage gardens with outbuildings and a car barn
High Crest House covers an impressive 9384sq ft, with almost three acres of grounds including a tennis court and summer house enclosed by electric gates
A six-bedroom farmhouse with separate accommodation in converted stables. Situated in the village of Church Aston, within walking distance to the market town
A two-bedroom flat with under-heated walnut floors and bespoke built-in storage. The Tube and Clapham Common are a short stroll away
A refurbished seven-bedroom townhouse with staff quarters, cinema room, superb gym, steam room and plunge pool
A minimnalist four-bedroom home designed to the highest spec, featuring glass walls and a kitchen space lit by a glass roof
Hibernate during winter and make your living during the summer at this busy guesthouse with panoramic sea views, in the village of Lynton
A four-bedroom penthouse next to the Tate with direct views of St Paul's from two floors of luxurious living space
A four-bedroom detached home surrounded by spacious gardens and woodland, close to New Pudsey
An 18th-century, three-bedroom home near Langstone Harbour built from ships beams with vaulted ceilings and wood burning stoves
A five-bedroom semi-detached home with a mix of period and modern features in a popular and convenient location
This five-bedroom red-brick beauty overlooks the village green and sits in just under two acres of land
A three-bedroom villa with self-contained flat, minutes from Lake Windermere
A five-bedroom Victorian home with four receptions, superb gardens and paddock in Pembury
An eight-bedroom house on the south side of the The Green with cinema, wine cellars and summer house
This 17th century beauty is full of rustic cosiness, while the detached home office means you can also run a business
Four exclusive apartments in a Grade II-listed former medical school with 2,275 sq ft of living space and 18ft ceilings
A five-bedroom terraced house on the popular Peterborough Estate, ideally located for both Eel Brook Common and South Park
A state-of-the-art farm-building conversion on the former Cliveden Estate, with 11,420sq ft of internal space, cinema and wine cellar
Windsor Castle overlooks this three-bedroom Victorian cottage located on one of Windsor's smartest roads
A boutique mews house, set around a central courtyard, with three bedrooms and a private roof terrace
A four-bedroom farm-conversion with three bathrooms and two reception rooms