Women and Homelessness
On any given night in Canada, it is estimated that 35,000 people are homeless. For every person that is absolutely homeless, research shows that there are an additional three people who fall into the hidden homelessness category. Women are over represented amongst the hidden homeless and they face unique challenges in finding and maintaining housing.
Women’s homelessness is often hidden. Women stay with violent partners because they cannot afford to leave. They also couch surf from one relative to another to maintain custody of their children. They often stay away from shelters for fear of losing custody of their children. As such, the struggles for women to acquire and maintain housing are not always visible.
There are some important points to acknowledge when looking at the topic of women and homelessness. Firstly, housing and supports must be accessible to mothers. Women with children need housing that is safe, affordable, close to schools and other amenities. Female lone parent families are amongst the poorest demographic in Canada. 23% of Canadian children living in lone female parent families live in poverty. Poverty leads women and their children to homelessness.
Another path into homelessness for women is the result of some form of abuse or violence. Women often end up in shelters as a refuge from violence. Additionally, it has been reported that 91% of women who are homeless in Canada have experienced some form of assault in their lifetime. Women who are homeless are also at great risk of violence or victimization while on the streets. Women who are homeless have experienced multiple levels of trauma unimaginable to most.
There are also compounding forms of marginalization for women, for instance, women of colour and Indigenous women are far more likely to experience homelessness and poverty. They are also less likely to access and receive appropriate support services. The intersection of sexism, racism, classism and colonialism further marginalizes Indigenous women. They are the most impacted by poverty, homelessness and are more likely to have their children apprehended by Child and Family Services. According to Amnesty International "Indigenous women, have been pushed into dangerous situations of extreme poverty and prostitution that make it easy for men, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal to be extremely violent towards them.” There are six shelters in Metro Vancouver that are for women or women and children only. The Province of BC also provides transitional housing and safe homes for women and children fleeing violence. For a complete list of options please see the links below.
Women who are homeless need to be supported to find safe and affordable housing that is appropriate for them and their children. There are some wonderful housing models that work for women and women with children. In Vancouver, Raincity Housing operates The Budzey, a ten story building with 147 housing units; 106 for women (trans and cis), and 41 units for women led families. It provides opportunities for the women and families living there to make connections with a comprehensive range of services and navigate the change from previous housing situations or homelessness into stable, supported, and permanent housing.
In Toronto, the YWCA Elm Centre has 165 affordable apartments for women and women with children in the heart of the city. It is a secured building with gardens and playgrounds close to schools and amenities. While the Elm Centre and the Budzey are huge investments in housing, they are an even bigger and lasting investment in the women and children who live there.