Rough sleeping has doubled in the past five years, with increasing numbers of women: women who are often existing or expectant mothers, fleeing violence, or who have disabilities or health problems.
Homeless women are even more vulnerable on the street than men. Research by Crisis, the homelessness charity, found 58% of women sleeping rough had been intimidated or threatened with violence and force in the past 12 months compared to 42% of men.
Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, Undercover: Britain’s Homeless Scandal, has put local councils to the test, after claims that they are unable to cope and are wrongly turning women away.
In many instances, according to the programme, women have been turned away without being fully assessed or prevented from making a homeless application – despite presenting with mental health issues, learning difficulties or fleeing domestic abuse.
- Out of 15 approaches only four women were offered emergency accommodation; 11 were turned away.
Drawing on a Crisis survey 458 recent or current rough sleepers in England and Wales, Dispatches has reported that:
- Nearly one in four female rough sleepers has been sexually assaulted in the past year.
- Three in 10 female rough sleepers have experienced sexual violence at some point while homeless.
- Nearly six in 10 have been intimidated or threatened with violence in the past year (compared to four out of 10 male rough sleepers).
What is gatekeeping?
“Gatekeeping” refers to deliberate attempts to prevent people accessing services in a council: in the case of housing, it means taking steps so people don’t, or can’t, fill in forms requesting help and registering their homelessness. If people are told the council won’t, and can’t, help them, they will often leave without filling in any forms and do not show up on the system. The Localism Act, introduced in 2011, also applied much stricter criteria to people’s eligibility for qualifying for housing help.
The practice is illegal, but is common, according to homeless people. Southwark council was told to cease and desist gatekeeping in 2012, and admitted to the practice. Reports of gatekeeping have risen since the deep central government cuts began in 2012, both due to cuts, and the government making it easier to gatekeep through the strict criteria of the Localism Act.
In the programme, one woman says to camera: “The housing officers have become desensitised, almost to an extreme.” Telling locals to look for private rooms, go to private landlords, stay in friends’ living rooms rather than ask the council to house you is a common method of gatekeeping.
How many people are homeless?
The Dispatches programme estimates that there are a total of 68,000 women in temporary accommodation, emergency shelters and sleeping on the streets. The most recent quarterly statistics published by the government in September 2016 recorded 74,630 households in temporary accommodation at the end of September 2016. This marks the 21st quarterly increase in the seasonally-adjusted number of households in temporary accommodation. Of these households, 53,370 (72%) were placed in temporary accommodation in London. The number of families with dependent children and/or pregnant woman placed in B&B-style accommodation increased from 630 at the end of March 2010 to 3,390 at the end of September 2016.
Why are so many people homeless?
Rising rents and stagnant wages, mean many more people are unable to keep up payments on private rental accommodation, and are evicted. Swingeing cuts to councils mean their ability to house people presenting to them with a housing need is limited.
The housing crisis means that many vulnerable people, including Theresa May’s “just about managing” families, can easily end up not managing at all, and facing homelessness. Right to buy has meant social housing stock has dwindled, while the share of homes in the private rental market has increased.
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