Making the invisible visible: homelessness among women



Both research and intervention policies and practices generally agree that homelessness among women usually takes the form of hidden homelessness.

Indeed, women will generally do everything they can to avoid living on the street, and even once they do find themselves in the street, will avoid being identified as homeless. And yet, this status quo only serves to highlight the scientific and social invisibilization of women's homelessness. Our understanding of this complex phenomenon reflects life on the street and the visible face of homelessness, resulting in a male-dominated perspective and interventions designed to address more extreme situations of homelessness as experienced on the street. However, homelessness is more often about the lack of stable, safe, affordable, appropriate housing than the actual experience of living in the street.

Women will generally do everything they can to avoid living on the street.

As a result, and despite the fact that all socio-economic indicators show that women are more often in situations of poverty, have more precarious jobs, are paid less, live more often in inappropriate housing conditions and experience considerably more situations of violence, homelessness among women is too often ignored and invisible.

Given this context, this participative research aims to get to the heart of the experience of homelessness among women to make it visible and to support the improvement of policies and practices targeting homeless women. 

The results show, on the one hand, that women's trajectories toward and within a state of homelessness can be explained by the many structural, institutional, social, cultural and individual barriers that often force them to face the stigma and shame of their situation alone and from a place of insecurity. On the other hand, the lack of services for these women, the mixed-gender nature of certain services and the unsuitability of many others, too often sees them ending up, exhausted, without resources and with multiple traumas, in the woefully inadequate intervention contexts intended for their use. From that point on, the road to recovery is long, difficult and fraught with peril. Indeed, recovery from a situation of extreme indignity requires time and security to reconnect with one's body, with oneself and with others, to confront the unequal framework of our society.

These findings call for profound changes in our outlook and actions, to prevent, support and reduce women's homelessness by continuously working on recognizing these situations and finding ways of responding to them, to enable all Québec women to live with dignity and safety, in accordance with our fundamental rights.

Main researcher

Céline Bellot, Université de Montréal

Summary

Research report

Call for proposals

Deposit of the research report: June 2018