Women become `the hidden face of homelessness'

NEARLY TWO THIRDS of Britain's homeless women are living on the streets because they have been the victims of domestic violence.

Research done by the Centre for Housing Policy at the University of York showed that women only used night shelters or hostels as a last resort, because most believed they were violent and unsafe.

Although the number of people sleeping rough over the past 20 year has decreased, the proportion of women has increased. More than 10,000 people sleep rough in England over the course of a year and it is estimated that 10 per cent of them are now women. "Women have become the hidden homeless. For years research about the nature and causes of single homelessness has focused on men because there are more men on the street," said Shaks Ghosh, the chief executive of Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people.

"As a woman myself I am appalled that this already vulnerable group is being further let down at times when they desperately need additional support and often remain invisible to those in a position to provide support," she said.

The study, Out of Sight, Out of Mind? was based on interviews with 77 homeless women from Brighton, Liverpool, Bristol and London. The findings showed that 63 per cent of women between 30 and 49 years old cited domestic violence as the main reason for their homelessness. And 43 per cent of the women had slept rough more than once.

Nearly a quarter had been living in a hostel for over a year but many women avoided them, so that their partner could not find them. Women sleeping on the streets felt vulnerable and most had been attacked or verbally abused.

Frances Buck, originally from the Midlands, has been homeless for the past five years. She has moved in and out of hostels and has spent nearly four years living on the streets. Ms Buck, 45, was married for eight years and living in private rented accommodation before she left her violent husband. "I couldn't take the physical and mental violence any more," she said. "I ran away to a hostel but he found me through the hostel system. I left him four or five times, but ended up living on the streets so he couldn't find me." Ms Buck has tried to get council accommodation but has been told she must wait for several years.

"Living on the streets is petrifying," she said. "You have to sleep with one eye open. I have woken up with men trying to get into my sleeping bag."

t Britain's first court to deal specifically with domestic violence is to be launched by the Home Secretary, Jack Straw.

The pioneering court will be launched this week in Leeds, to try to improve the way victims and offenders are dealt with. It will operate, for a trial period, on one day a week at the city magistrates' court. Specialist advice will be provided by police officers, probation service staff and Halt, a charitable group that supports victims of domestic violence.

West Yorkshire's divisional chief probation officer, Ian Lankshear, said: "The courts, police, probation service and Halt will be working together to support women who are victims of violence from men they know and to bring about changes in the men's behaviour."