The Invisibility Issue: Homelessness | Why are women at risk?

On Census night 2011 there were 105,237 people experiencing homelessness, with 45,813 or 44% of those people being women. While more males were homeless on Census night, 59% of people supported by specialist homelessness services are female. Women aged 18-34 were the group most likely to access those homelessness services. Each year 1 in 42 women aged 15-24 will access a specialist homelessness service.

This story is one in a series of pieces that profile homelessness and some of the elements around the issue. Check our other stories, which explore homelessness and young people, substance abuse, profiles of those who’ve experienced homelessness and some of the people working to support those at risk. 

 

Why are women at risk?

Many Australians are affected by the shortage of affordable and available rental housing but women, particularly those reliant on either part-time wages or single parenting payments, may be more at risk than men. One of the main reasons is that on the whole, women earn less income than men.

Women are more likely to take leave from the workforce (due to caring responsibilities) and to return to paid employment on a part-time or casual basis. 75% of part-time workers in Australia are women. Returning to the workforce after extended leave can also be difficult for women – a third of women returning to the workforce after maternity leave believe they work for organisations that are not family-friendly resulting in double the likelihood of psychological distress.

Domestic and family violence

Women are more likely to be victims of domestic and family violence, and because of this threat to their safety women (and their children) are forced, or make decisions to leave their home. Over a third of women over the age of 15 have experienced physical, psychological and/or sexual violence at the hands of a current or former partner.

Domestic and family violence is the number one reason why people present to specialist homeless services, with 55% of female clients citing this reason and a total of 25% of all clients.

Vulnerable groups of women

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women

The culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders has an impact on their ability to access homelessness services. The closeness and breadth of kinship groups can prevent women from accessing counselling, legal and medical support services, particularly in remote communities and regional locations. Aboriginal women may also face discrimination in the housing market or may be unable to find housing that is appropriate to their needs due to higher birth rates and the need for four or five bedroom homes which are in short supply both in social housing and private rental.

There are many issues in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that can lead to homelessness including factors relating to alcohol and substance use, living in remote communities and social stressors. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are also 35 times more likely to be victims of domestic violence.

Older women

Older single women may be forced out the workforce early, have insufficient superannuation or savings to fund the cost of living, face discrimination in the housing market, experience the death of an income earning spouse, or poor health or serious illness.

Women with a mental illness

Young women may be particularly vulnerable to housing insecurity and homelessness as a result of mental illness. There is also evidence that people living with mental illness are overrepresented in the population of people experiencing homelessness.

Women with a disability

Women with disabilities are over-represented when it comes to the factors that increase risk of homelessness: lack of affordable, secure housing; unemployment and inadequate income; and domestic and family violence.

Women in rural and remote locations

According to specialist homelessness services data, the proportion of female clients accessing services increases with remoteness.

For both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in remote and rural areas, access to independent services can be limited due to geographical isolation and the availability of resources in local areas.

Women who are culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD)

Data indicates that the proportion of people born overseas who are supported by services is significantly lower than the proportion of people born overseas in the general population. This does not mean that rates of homelessness amongst people born overseas are significantly lower than for people born in Australia. Limited access to and knowledge of how to navigate the complex housing system has been posited as a factor placing people from CALD backgrounds at increased risk of homelessness, in particular young humanitarian entrants. Feedback from the homelessness sector has shown that women from CALD backgrounds are an emerging group in the homelessness population, particularly in relation to domestic and family violence.

Source: Homelessness Australia | homelessnessaustralia.org.au

2 Comments

  • Reply May 31, 2015

    Sarah Tweed

    Why only focus on women? I think we need to consider men in these things too as it makes us look very bias. Why use the 2011 census when there is a more recent 2014 census?

    “While more males were homeless on Census night, 59% of people supported by specialist homelessness services are female.”

    Why brush men aside? The 2014 census demonstrates that there is a ~2% variation between Men and Women being supported by specialist homelessness services. Why imply that people being supported are more important than those that are not?

    If you did research and saw the figures, you presumably saw that in the 2014 census more than two thirds of homeless people, not supported by specialist services, are men. Why is this considered unimportant?

    “Why are women at risk?”

    Men are at risk too, in fact, more at risk than we are. Despite the fact that this article has been published to social media with the headline “Why are women more at risk?”.

    Let’s get to the part of the article where I assume you’re providing the answer to your headline question.

    Q: “Why are women at risk?” [Of homelessness]
    A: “One of the main reasons is that on the whole, women earn less income than men.

    Women are more likely to take leave from the workforce (due to caring responsibilities) and to return to paid employment on a part-time or casual basis.”

    So I’m at risk due to the career paths I choose, and later on you factor in domestic abuse as well as a few other issues, again ignoring how any of them affect our male counterparts.

    Articles like this help feed the idea that third wave feminists only care about women and to be honest I think it gives us a bad name.

    HOMELESSNESS IS A MASSIVE ISSUE, so do not mistake my criticism for callousness in the face of a nationwide issue. This just feels like the wrong way to address it.

    I am disappointed.

    • Reply May 31, 2015

      Samantha Morris

      Thank you so much for your comments Sarah. The intro on FB was a quick typo and has been changed – thank you for bringing it to our attention.

      This piece is one of half a dozen or so articles in our last magazine which focus on a range of aspects such as youth, women, a couple of (male) profiles, an ex homeless man, substance abuse and volunteers, and the statistics were taken from Homelessness Australia.

      We do appreciate the time you’ve taken to draw attention to more recent data. And you are very welcome to contact us by email to chat more – news@blankgc.com.au.

      Sam / Editor

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