Up to 9 times more women rough sleeping in England than government statistics suggest, report says

A new report estimates there could be "nine times" more women sleeping rough in England than official government data suggests.

The Women's Rough Sleeping Census Report, which is the first of its kind in England, aims to give a more accurate picture of what women's rough sleeping looks like in the UK.

The coalition of charities behind the report has urged councils in the North East and North Yorkshire to get involved in the next census in September 2024.

Ellie Greenhalgh, from the charity, Solace Women's Aid, told ITV News Tyne Tees, by taking part in the census, councils will get a better picture of what women's rough sleeping looks like in the region, but also a greater understanding of what they need to do to support homeless women.

She said: "It would be fantastic for local authorities in the North East and North Yorkshire to take part in the census this September. We know there are lots of fantastic local authorities and boroughs and services in these areas that have the ability, the resources and the willing to take part and find out more about the work they can do to support women rough sleeping in their area, and there's a lot that can be learnt from just doing the census, in terms of how women can be better supported in the area."

It comes as the coalition calls on government to review its homelessness policies to make them more "gender informed", after the census, published on Tuesday 7 May, found more homeless women in 41 local authority areas than the government's official annual snapshot data recorded in the whole of England in 2023.

The charities that compiled the census, including Solace, Single Homeless Project and Change Grow Live, said it revealed "gender bias" in the official government counts, meaning that women are likely to be significantly underrepresented in the rough sleeping data.

Women's Rough Sleeping Census Report 2023 Credit: ITV News

The census for 2023 found 815 women sleeping rough in the 41 local authority areas, which accounts for just 13 per cent of local authority areas in England. By contrast, the government's annual snapshot figures for the same 41 areas found only 189 homeless women, and for England as a whole, it recorded only 568 women sleeping rough.

The coalition estimates the true scale of women's rough sleeping could be much higher than official government statistics suggest.

Lucy Campbell, from the Single Homeless Project charity, told ITV News Tyne Tees the report has found "there could be as many as nine times more women rough sleeping in England as we currently think there are".

Homeless person in street Credit: ITV News

She explained that if so many homeless women are "hidden" from the government's official counts, there is a strong possibility they may be missing out on vital support and housing solutions.

She added: "They (women rough sleepers) have to be seen by an outreach team bedded down, so lying down in their sleeping bag, or about to on the street, and because we know that women are very unlikely to do that, because of their physical safety, it means they’re not identified as rough sleeping and they don’t then have the options of support and accommodation pathways, which are there to resolve homelessness for people experiencing rough sleeping."

The report highlighted a series of "hidden" locations that homeless women go to in order to stay safe, including A&E waiting rooms, on buses and trains, in squats, walking around all night, and staying with strangers. The charities suggest none of these forms of rough sleeping are encompassed within the current government rough sleeping definition, meaning that women’s experiences are not recognised and their homelessness is less likely to be resolved.

Women's Rough Sleeping Census Report Credit: ITV News

The coalition is calling on the government to:

  • Make homelessness policies gender-informed: claiming that current rough sleeping definitions, strategies and practices are based predominantly on the experiences of men.

  • Resource and lead the women’s rough sleeping census: urging the government to lead and support every local authority in England to conduct it annually.

  • Conduct an equalities impact assessment: to ensure that data collection methods are inclusive of women and minoritised groups.

A spokesperson from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: "We are working closely with the group behind the Women’s Rough Sleeping Census and have promoted the census to all local authorities.

"We know that women sleeping rough need specific support, which is why we are working with charities on the census to give better information to help women off the streets. We are also spending £2.4 billion on tackling rough sleeping and homelessness across the country."

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