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"Women's Problems"

March 8th is International Women's Day and we’re drawing attention to the realties women face living on our streets. International Women’s Day has been driving gender parity for over a century, the first event in 1911 gathered to celebrate and support women’s advancement.




Homelessness is a complex subject, and men and women face the same challenges, however simply by being a woman, they face a different set of challenges.


As one woman who uses our services points out “Women on the streets have to deal with a lot of things that men don’t; our time of the month is difficult and there aren’t many places like The Ark where we can go to get tampons. I’ve had to wear two or three layers of pants, or use a sock, so women’s hygiene is very hard on the streets unless you have a resource like The Ark.


"Another issue is drunken men or women; we’re a lot more vulnerable on a Saturday night if you sleep around the town centre, men try to sleep with you, offering money to take you home. But only as a motive to get you into bed. Also, being a female rough sleeper, you don’t know who else is around, people are released from prison or coming in from different areas. It’s important to keep yourself protected and safe, you can’t ever trust anybody, so it’s very lonely. The men tend to stick together in packs, they know each other and handle themselves, women are vulnerable in that situation.


"I have never put myself in a dangerous position to get off the streets, I am very lucky, I always headed for the woods and the wilderness to stay safe, rather than a crack den for shelter.”


Women and homelessness – what research reveals


Women account for a minority of the homeless population in the UK, however, the data on violence and abuse demonstrates that those women experience higher rates of violence and abuse within the homeless population.


The experience of one homeless woman to another will be very different and their individual paths to rough sleeping will be complex and, in some way, different to men.


There are, however, commonalities that have been unearthed through research and these tend to be linked to:


  • Child poverty

  • Discrimination/disadvantage

  • Violence

  • Abuse

  • Ill health

  • Poor mental health


Abuse and violence remain a leading reason why women experience homelessness. This backs up knowledge first gained nearly 20 years ago, which found that 20% of women experienced homelessness because of violence .


1.Women who experience homelessness are more likely to be victims of violence, verbal abuse and theft than men.


  • There are many studies that show alarming numbers such as:

  • When homeless, young women are 3 x more likely to be exploited or sexually abused

  • 70% of women sleeping rough had experienced violence from their partner

  • A Crisis study showed that 61% of women had suffered violence from their partner

  • Violence and abuse within families (from childhood onwards into later life) has been identified by many studies as a key factor of why women experience homelessness


There are key differences in the data between women and men in this area – it’s worth reading about here


The impact of trauma following abuse and violence, as a child growing up, or as an adult in a relationship, has been proven to significantly impact stability in areas such as employment and housing.

 

2. A significant number of homeless women are also dealing with the trauma of their children being in care of looked after elsewhere.


  • Studies in the south of England suggest that 50% of women are mothers and 79% of their children are in care

  • 38% of female homeless responders’ children were being looked after by someone else. This compares with 9% of men

  • Losing children has a major bearing on the lives of women who experience homelessness


3. Many homeless women report major illnesses brought on by the stress of their situation, including early menopause, panic attacks, chest pain.



4. A homeless woman has to manage her menstrual cycle:


  • Without easy access to a lavatory or washing facilities

  • She also has to find money for sanitary products


5. Death


  • The average age of death for a homeless woman is 4 years younger than a homeless man

  • And 40 years younger than the average age of women in England


6. Women are vulnerable to unwanted relationships and sexual partnerships to try to get a roof over their heads.


  • Early Crisis data12 showed that nearly 30% of women became involved in unwanted relationships and 20% were employed in sex work

  • More recent views are very mixed in this area

  • More research is needed


7. Substance use and abuse


  • Generally, women are slightly less likely to use drugs than men

  • Homeless women report fewer issues with alcohol than men13 Read more about challenges homeless women face here


Homeless women in Shropshire At a local level the Local Government


‘Understanding Homelessness in Shropshire’ October 2023 reveals:

  • 164 Single adult Females were owed a prevention of duty (meaning they are under threat of homelessness and need assistance from the council)

We are currently supporting four women who are rough sleeping locally, aged 41 to 52.

 

One woman who uses our services says: “The Ark provides underwear, bras, sanitary protection, shower facilities and all of that female hygiene becomes a lot more manageable. There is a doctor, so that we can discuss any women’s medical worries or contraception, so anything like that is easier to handle. We get all round general support; it’s somewhere we can offload and go to sleep. We can have time to ourselves, get clean, organised and get all in order for that long old night ahead.

 

“The female support workers at The Ark are an absolute God send! It’s all about mental health, physical health, wellbeing, hygiene, so that’s all a lot easier to have a girlie chat on a professional level. I think that the female support workers at The Ark all have a very good understanding, they are non-judgmental, they tackle everything head on, one problem at a time. It’s slow and steady progress, but slow and steady wins the race.”

 

Our support worker Helen says “We try to be understanding of the issues specific to our female clients. One woman I am working with has to manage her menstrual cycle whilst living in a tent. She was delighted that we could provide sanitary items and also wipes, so that she could maintain high levels of hygiene, because toileting in the night can be complex. There are clear health issues for women each month and we try to reduce the associated anxiety by offering washing and laundry facilities, a hot water bottle and somewhere to feel safe.

 

“Personal dignity is so vital for our clients and we offer hairdryers and hair straighteners. This might seem frivolous but when someone experiences rough sleeping, they want to have as much normality as possible and feel good about themselves. We take haircuts for granted – imagine what it must feel like when your life is contained in a hold-all.”

 

As well as providing all our clients with physical support for domestic abuse, mental health, substance misuse and oral health, our team give emotional support, assist with developing life skills many of us take for granted, and most importantly, preserve dignity; many people without a home are pre-judged and stigmatised, leading to very low self-esteem and greatly impacting mental health.

 

Providing essential GP services, Dr Nicola Roberts and her team from Riverside Medical Practice run weekly clinics in the Ark’s dedicated medical room. There is also a hepatology clinic run in partnership with Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust, and through The Hepatitis C Trust, people are regularly tested for hepatitis; if anyone tests positive, we support them with wrap around care for their ongoing treatment.


 We NEVER charge for our day centre services and we are funded entirely by grants and donations.

 

Thank you to everyone who supports us! Everything we are able to do to support vulnerable women in our community is because of your generosity.

 


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