The national survey on homelessness in Denmark 2017 from VIVE (The Danish Centre for Applied Social Science) shows a continued growth of homelessness among women.
After some years of a stable count of round 22% the proportion of women has, in the survey from 2017, risen to 25%. In numbers this means an increase from 1325 women in 2015 to 1633 women in 2017. I.e. one in four homeless people is a woman. But why the concern for the growth in female homelessness? Isn’t one homeless one too many, regardless of gender?
Projekt UDENFOR believe that homelessness is undignified and unacceptable regardless of gender, age or nationality. The homelessness of women, however, does call for special attention, because it is massive and destructive in all aspects of life. We have earlier, on several occasions drawn attention to the difficult and well documented odds that homeless women are up against: They are exceptionally exposed to early neglect, they soon end up addicted to hard drugs, their health and life quality is poor, they often contract chronic and debilitating diseases, they attempt suicide and are massively exposed to violence and sexual assaults.
The 2017 survey fully confirms the knowledge we have gathered through years about homelessness of women. For instance it is obvious, that homeless women are particularly exposed to mental disorders. 61% of homeless women have got a mental disease, as opposed to 50% of homeless men. Especially worrying is the occurrence of psychic disorders in younger women, among whom the ratio is 63 to 65%.
By means of the survey it is once again stated, that a rising number of citizens – especially younger women – who suffer from mental disorders are affected with homelessness. That it is not the other way around is evident from the fact that a significant part of the homeless women were rendered homeless recently.
Thus an assessment of the duration of homelessness of the respective genders shows that 63% of the homeless women (compared to 52% of the homeless men) have been homeless for less than a year.
The homeless women are in an extreme life situation. We have read, again and again, for instance in the final review on the strategy on homelessness (May 2013) it is stated that “Women landed in the streets due to homelessness are very vulnerable. Women are more likely than men to solve their issues around the lack of housing for instance by couch surfing, but once they end up in the streets, things become very chaotic. If you catch hold of them immediately after they loose their home, experience shows that they are easier helped along than the men. There is extensive prostitution, the death rate is high, whereas the men live longer”.
The fact that homeless people try to postpone their life on the streets by staying with family and friends is included in the survey on homelessness in Denmark 2017. The survey confirms that women use this survival strategy to a larger extent than men do. The survey shows a higher percentage of the women, 42%, staying with family and friends, opposed to 30% of the men.
It is mainly the younger homeless women who stay the night with family and friends. They are couch surfers and in that way they solve an immediate problem. This way of problem solving, however, remains temporary, as it takes its toll on family and friends to have someone staying the night on your couch, and soon one must on to yet another couch. And when family and friends are exhausted, the option is staying with more or less coincidental, perhaps even dubious acquaintancies. This slippery slope raises the risk of getting in contact with environments with substance abuse or exposes the person to threats, violence or sexual assaults.
In the seminar ‘Kvinder på bunden af Danmark – Når hjemløshed har køn’ (Women at the bottom of Denmark. When homelessness has got a gender), which projekt UDENFOR conducted in May 2016, couch surfing with family and friends was pointed out as one of the major markers of women’s high road to distressing life on the streets. Access to a couch means access to male protection, often implying sexual favours as a quid pro quo and this grey zone prostitution often procedes actual homelessness.
As it emerges from this article women’s homelessness is rising and especially younger women with a tainted background and undignified living conditions are hit. This is a known fact that the latest survey, unfortunately, confirms.
However, we have not yet hit rock bottom, as development shows that new groups of vulnerable women are rendered homeless. The survey for 2017 shows that the group of homeless veterans/formerly deployed has grown from 68 persons in 2015 to 70 persons in 2017 and whereas one of the homeless veterans in 2015 was a woman, the number of women has grown to 5 in 2017.
This development is alarming.
We gain still more knowledge on the homelessness of women and the continuous national survey is essential when it comes to evolving methods and initiatives to alleviate hardship in the streets and support homeless women towards decent living conditions. It is urgent, however, as some of the homeless women have got children, who are right now growing up facing homelessness as a living condition. We shall look into the conditions of these children in our next article on the national survey 2017.