Two in three people seeking homelessness help are women. The experience of homelessness for women is generally hidden, but somehow services are able to reach them more effectively than men. It’s important to remember that individual experiences vary widely and should not be broken down into gender stereotypes. However, recognising these trends can help us learn to disrupt homelessness for different groups. Sleeping rough is a dangerous experience for anyone, but, when all else fails, older males tend to represent the majority braving the streets in public. Being homeless and without social support is dehumanising. Is it more publicly acceptable for men to be dehumanised? Are the scales of structural gender imbalance in our society tipped so far for women that sleeping in public is too dangerous - forcing them to seek refuge in other ways? These are the tough questions we need to ask and tease apart to understand how to stop homelessness.
Women tend to experience homelessness more privately than men - be it sleeping in cars or on couches. Yet, we are better at making services more visible to women; or at least women feel more empowered to seek out help. If social and gender norms influence a person’s ability to seek help, then we need to understand the social and gender constructs that restrict our reach. Family violence is a prime driver for women seeking refuge and we know that the outcomes of domestic violence are more often fatal for women than for men. However, men account for two thirds of homicide victims; almost always at the hands of other men. We have a reality now where more men sleep rough in public, yet they are killed in public, and more women sleep rough hidden from public view but are killed in private. Nowhere is safe, for women or men, when violence is acceptable indoors or out. We need to build more bridges, particularly for men, so that help-seeking becomes an impulse greater than violence.
Programs that address gender and social norms relating to violence and help-seeking behaviour are necessary to prevent and disrupt homelessness. ASYASS looks forward to continue learning about how to empower its staff and develop programs that change these norms in our community. Together we will achieve a violence-free community, safe for men and women, girls and boys.