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Women and Homelessness

Homelessness definitely has a stereotype: a single, older adult male asking for change on the city streets. However, women make up 27.3% of the overall homeless population in Canada. 

On International Women’s Day, it is important that we acknowledge the hardships that women, girls and gender diverse people experiencing homelessness face on a daily basis. Without a door to lock safely behind them, women are at great risk of physical, emotional and psychological harm.

Senior lady elderly gloomy worried covering face.

What are the challenges?

EMPLOYMENT & INCOME

The pandemic has pushed women’s participation in the labour force down to its lowest level in three decades. A report by RBC shows 1.5 million Canadian women lost their jobs in the first two months of the pandemic. Despite a recovery, women’s employment has been consistently more affected than men. Two years later, women account for 53.7% of employment losses.

Women are being hardest hit because they tend to work in industries — hospitality and food services, retail, educational services, health care and social assistance — most affected by closures, earnings losses and layoffs. Women-led households are dependent on reliable and affordable childcare. 

Women are more likely to leave work for maternity, child care or elder care, causing an extended break in their employment. This can lead to a loss of networks, connections and confidence.
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DOMESTIC VIOLENCE AND ABUSE

Women also experience higher rates of domestic violence. Violence against women by intimate partners is often the cause of homelessness. The Canadian Women’s Foundation estimates that, on any given night in Canada, 6,000 women (often with children) seek refuge in emergency shelters because it isn’t safe at home.

Research also shows that women who have experienced domestic violence are often dealing with depression and PTSD, and will “face significant discrimination from landlords when trying to find a home”.

Young black woman sad and depressed

MENTAL HEALTH

Women who don’t have a home face higher rates of physical, sexual and emotional abuse than women who are housed. This is often the cause of mental health issues.

Homeless women are living with mental illness at much higher rates than the general population. About 75% of homeless women struggle with disorders such as anxiety, depression and schizophrenia.

Portrait of a Muslim girl with tears in her eyes.

PHYSICAL HEALTH

Maintaining good physical health is another common challenge that homeless women face. Accessing menstrual products, personal hygiene products, and a reliable private place for self-care is difficult at the best of times. It can be a fulltime (and sometimes impossible) job.

Similarly, without access to essential medical care and supplies, pregnant women face potential health complications. Things like maintaining good nutrition and having regular visits with a doctor can be difficult for homeless mothers-to-be, putting their health and the health of their baby at risk.

Young woman sitting outdoors and dealing with pain

HIDDEN HOMELESSNESS

Women are more likely to experience what is called ”hidden homelessness”. This could mean staying in an abusive relationship to avoid living on the street, short-term stays with friends or relatives, trading sex for a place to live, or sharing a living space with others well beyond its capacity.

Women facing hidden homelessness will often cycle through whatever options they have – couch-surfing, the shelter system, and time on the street, etc. – as a way to avoid overstaying their welcome while struggling to get back on their feet. These examples of hidden homelessness make it difficult to accurately estimate the number of women and families experiencing homelessness in Canada.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Shelters designed specifically for women and their individual needs are essential. More and more women in Toronto are experiencing homelessness, are using shelters or are precariously housed. In addition, there is an acute lack of women-only, trauma-informed housing services in Toronto. In response to this growing need, Fred Victor offers shelters designed specifically for women experiencing homelessness and poverty. 

Our Fatima House is a newly-renovated, accessible and pet-friendly shelter that houses up to 52 women. The shelter offers meals, counselling and healthcare services, as well as housing support. Staff onsite will work with the women to help them secure and transition to a permanent and affordable place to live.

Mary Sheffield House is a transitional shelter serving senior women ages 55+ and are vulnerable due to complex physical, mental health, developmental and/or substance-use related issues. Here staff help women find housing and works with each woman to put appropriate supports in place so that they do not end up back on the street can have a profound impact.

These shelters represent a new beginning. For the women moving in, it is an opportunity to begin rebuilding their lives. It is also a step forward in ending the stigma surrounding homelessness and homeless shelters. The good quality and intentional design of the space, as well as the extensive wrap-around services offered by our staff, will help to change the image of what a shelter should be.

HOW CAN I HELP?

Give a Women a Heartfelt Gift

Moving into a new place is an exciting time and a big moment for the women. However, for many of them, a shelter may be their first home in a long time. We are inviting all readers to make a donation today that will go toward our shelters designed for women –  a heartfelt gift that includes all the basic necessities for someone starting over and moving forward.

Help women who are experiencing homelessnes.


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