If you have lived in a large, bustling city or even a small country town, you may have observed that homelessness is an inescapable part of life for many people. You may have also observed that the larger proportion of people who live rough on the streets are men. Not to omit the fact that there is still a vast percentage of homeless women as well (and in recent years this statistic has risen dramatically), but many different sources document the comparative figures as being overwhelmingly men. In 2017 in the United Kingdom, 14% of rough sleepers were women. In London during autumn 2020, 16% were women, while in Finland for example, 25% were found to be women.
Homeless women are also found to be younger than homeless men, more likely to be part of a minority group, and more welfare dependent. They have compared to men, fewer histories of incarceration, substance abuse, and felony conviction. They also tend to spend less time on the streets and in unsheltered areas. Moreover, homelessness has been found to be a pressing issue for the trans community as well, with one in five transgender individuals experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives.
One of the reasons for this disparity is that it is more difficult for men to be rehoused as they are ‘perceived to be less vulnerable’ than women, or less in need of support and help. The definition of the term ‘vulnerable’ remains quite vague, but it could be assumed that factors typically associated with womanhood such as pregnancy and monthly menstrual cycle, and a higher likelihood of facing sexual assault and violence on the street were elements of this ‘vulnerability’. Furthermore, the main causes behind homeless women cases were found to be domestic and sexual violence. In contrast, for men, unemployment and poverty were found to be the main reasons for homelessness. Furthermore, in a lot of cases when women are homeless, they have young children in their custody that are dependent on them.
It would appear that varied biological and societal reasons are responsible for the universally gendered issue of homelessness. However, homelessness is still understood by many as an issue predominantly affecting men, and (European) research on the matter because sustaining this assumption also creates an invisibilisation of women homelessness cases and their particularities. By focussing on men’s experiences, research and intervention fail to accommodate the nuanced interrelationships between gender and agency when it comes to homelessness.
The gendered understanding of homelessness implies that any policy and intervention program on the matter should take these differences into account since the effects of the intervention will be different depending on one’s gender and intersecting identities.