Collaborate strategically to ensure homes for women and to end women’s homelessness.
Despite the public perception that a homeless person is a man sleeping on a city street, best estimates show women and girls make up roughly half of those who are homeless in Canada.
2013 figures indicate that out of more than 200,000 people using emergency shelters and temporary housing annually, roughly half are women and girls: 31% are women in shelters for abused women; 18% are women in homeless shelters and 5% are young women, age 16-24, using homeless shelters.
Without a safe home, women and girls live at high risk of emotional and physical harm. Women without housing are 10 times more likely to die than women with homes. Physical and sexual assault are constant risks. One Toronto study reported that more than one-third of visibly homeless women had been physically assaulted, and over 20% sexually assaulted, in the preceding year.
Less visible equals less vulnerable, so women and girls hide their lack of housing. Lack of awareness of hidden homelessness seriously underestimates how many women and girls are experiencing homelessness, buries issues such as survival sex – the trading of sex for a place to sleep – and leads to a lack of services.
Violence remains a major driver of homelessness for women, with more than 75,000 women and children leaving their homes each year to escape abusive partners. The majority of women and children in emergency shelters in Canada are fleeing violence and abuse at home. Violence, including sexual abuse, also forces many girls out of their family homes across the country.
Housing: Homes for women
A safe home is the best answer. A national housing strategy that reflects the realities of women’s lives can bring an end to homelessness for women and girls. The federal government’s national housing strategy needs an intersectional gender lens to be effective for women and girls. The strategy needs to address the acute housing shortage across the northern territories, which heavily impacts women living in abusive situations, who remain in the same residence with an abusive partner due to lack of other accommodation. YWCA Canada started the Homes for Women Campaign – H4W – to draw attention to women’s and girls experiences of homelessness and the need for gender-focused housing and support services. To address the lack of affordable housing and the supports women and girls need YWCA Canada Member Associations have created housing – permanent and transitional – across the country.
Housing First is an approach to addressing homelessness based on the principle of providing housing first to someone experiencing homelessness, and additional supports and services as needed, and bypassing shelters. Like the national housing strategy, housing first needs a gender lens to ensure that the approach works for women and girls, and is adapted to suit gender differences in homelessness.
All Our Sisters is a national network focusing on women and homelessness in Canada, which has hosted two national conferences focused on women.
YWCA Canada is a member of the Canadian Housing and Renewal Association, which works to ensure that all Canadians have an affordable, secure and decent place to call home.