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Recognizing Women Experiencing Homelessness: A Women’s History Month Spotlight on Downtown Women’s Center

Written by: Amy Turk, CEO, Downtown Women’s Center; This post Recognizing Women Experiencing Homelessness: A Women’s History Month Spotlight on Downtown Women’s Center appeared first on National Alliance to End Homelessness. If there are any broken links in the article as published by the author please contact the author or the publisher, National Alliance to End Homelessness.

The experience of homelessness bears especially hard on women.

Homelessness experienced by women is made unique by their disproportionate experiences of gender-based violence including domestic violence, dating violence, stalking, human trafficking, and sexual assault, and is experienced both cisgender (those who identify with the gender assigned them at birth) and transgender women. Over time, women’s wealth compounds at a lower rate compared to men due to persistent pay gaps, resulting in higher rental cost burdens and housing instability. Though younger women are facing higher rates of first-time homelessness, gendered wealth disparities also force older women, no longer able to afford the cost of living, into homelessness. Older women face more chronic health conditions and, on average, die 35 years prematurely. Due to longstanding systemic racism and sexism, women’s homelessness is disproportionately experienced by BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities.

Identifying Unique Subpopulations Changes Lives

Over the past several years, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and other federal agencies have diligently worked to address the challenges and needs of specific groups within the overall homeless population – specifically veterans, families, youth, and the chronically homeless. Through these efforts of “designating” subpopulations, we have seen that targeting resources to specific groups is much more effective in reducing homelessness than a “one-size-fits-all” approach, and that incidence of homelessness amongst these subpopulations are lowered.

Unfortunately, one group that has not been identified as a subpopulation of people experiencing homelessness are individual women – individuals who are not accompanied by partners, children, or dependents and who do not qualify for resources allocated for families and are more likely to be survivors of domestic violence.

Since HUD began to disaggregate data by gender in 2015, the numbers point to troubling trends. Nationally, while the percentage of women and girls within the overall unhoused population is virtually unchanged– 40% in 2015 compared to 39% in 2019 – the percentage of individual women experiencing homelessness has risen dramatically. According to the 2019 AHAR, 53% of all unhoused women are unaccompanied, compared to 45% in 2015, for a total of 115,635 women nationwide. Thus, decreases in family homelessness can mask increases in homelessness among unaccompanied women.

Unaccompanied women now make up 29%, of all unhoused individuals in America today. Per the 2019 AHAR, there are 60% more unaccompanied women unhoused in this country than there are unaccompanied youth (35,038) and veterans (37,085) combined. In short, unaccompanied women are significantly represented within homelessness and are numerically larger than other groups garnering focused attention by advocates and service providers.

There has also been a commensurate increase in the number of unaccompanied women who are unsheltered – 47%, up eight percentage points since 2015. A 2019 review of VI-SPDAT data conducted by the California Policy Lab indicates unsheltered women have higher rates of physical health, mental health, and substance abuse concerns, and on average spend more than a decade without the benefit of stable housing. 80% of unsheltered women self-report trauma or abuse as the cause of their homelessness.

More women are falling into homelessness are doing so without family, are likely to wind up on the street, and are denied the resources available to unhoused families. Ultimately, these statistics point to the need for more targeted resources for women, and the need for local governments to respond accordingly.

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