Increasing rates of homelessness among women and their children have been linked to domestic violence. There are about 4,000 women in Brisbane homeless on any given night, says one expert, and only 46 beds available to them in shelters.
Helena Menih from the University of New England spent 10 months on the streets of Brisbane talking to homeless women about their experiences as part of her PhD studies.
She says the number of homeless women in Australia is growing and domestic violence is a common thread.
“One important element here to consider is women who are at risk of becoming homeless — so before they actually end up on the street, there is something that needs to be done,” Dr Menih said.
“Either there’s an increase in shelters, or in developing mechanisms with services that are addressing issues like domestic violence, and how can women safely leave violent homes and go to safe havens rather than live on the streets.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found in its 2014 General Social Survey that about 2.5 million Australians had experienced homelessness at some time in their lives, and the most common reason affecting more than 40 per cent of them was family and relationship breakdown.
Women aged 18-34 were the group most likely to access specialist homelessness services.
Why Are Women More At Risk of Homelessness?
Women are more likely to be victims of domestic and family violence, and because of this threat to their safety women (and children) are forced, or make decisions to leave their home. Over a third of women over the age of 15 have experienced physical, psychological and/or sexual violence at the hands of a current or former partner. Domestic and family violence is the number one reason why people present to specialist homeless services, with 55% of female clients citing this reason and a total of 25% of all clients.
The Most Vulnerable Groups At Risk Of Homelessness
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women.
The culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians has an impact on their ability to access homelessness services. The closeness and breadth of kinship groups can prevent women from accessing counselling, legal and medical support services, particularly in remote communities and regional locations. Aboriginal women may also face discrimination in the housing market or may be unable to find housing that is appropriate to their needs due to higher birth rates and the need for more four or five bedroom homes which are in short supply, both in social housing and private rental. There are many issues in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that can lead to homelessness including factors relating to alcohol and substance use, living in remote communities and social stressors. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are also 35 times more likely to be victims of domestic violence.
Older single women may be forced out the workforce early, have insufficient superannuation/ savings to fund the cost of living, face discrimination in the housing market, experience the death of an income earning spouse, or experience poor health or serious illness.
Women With a Mental Illness
Young women may be particularly vulnerable to housing insecurity and homelessness as a result of mental illness. There is also evidence that people living with mental illness are over-represented in the population of people experiencing homelessness.
Women With a Disability
Women with disabilities are over-represented in the main factors that increase the risk of homelessness, including: lack of affordable, secure housing; unemployment and inadequate income; and domestic and family violence.
Women in Rural and Remote Locations
According to specialist homelessness services collection data, the proportion of female clients accessing services increases with remoteness. For both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in remote and rural areas, access to independent services can be limited due to their geographical isolation and the limited availability of resources in local areas.
Women Who Are Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD)
Specialist homelessness services data indicates that the proportion of people born overseas who are supported by services is significantly lower than the proportion of people born overseas in the general population. This should not be used to infer that rates of homelessness amongst people born overseas are significantly lower than for people born in Australia and in any case it is not a useful measure of homelessness amongst women from CALD backgrounds. Limited access to and knowledge of how to navigate the complex housing system has been posited as a factor placing people from CALD backgrounds at increased risk of homelessness, in particular young humanitarian entrants. Feedback from the homelessness sector has shown that women from CALD backgrounds are an emerging group in the homelessness population, particularly in relation to domestic and family violence.
Women Often Face An Impossible Choice
One in two women who leave an abusive relationship will return to live with the perpetrator, sometimes returning five or more times, research has revealed.
The research into domestic violence and homelessness Reducing the Need for Women and Children to Make Repeated Use of Refuge and Other Crisis Accommodation was conducted by Swinburne University of Technology.
The research showed the need for innovative models of intervention that allow women and their children to stay in the family home while keeping the perpetrator safely away.
The research investigated a number of innovative models across Australia and England which allow women and children who have experienced domestic violence to remain safely in their homes by excluding the perpetrator and providing a combination of housing, judicial and support services.
The research advocates for these early intervention and integrated services, but says there is inconsistent service provided in each location and calls for more services to be established nationally.
The authors of the report also call for collaboration between police and support workers to be a formal process and for a common risk assessment tool to be adopted throughout Australia to ensure consistency for women and children experiencing domestic violence.
If you need advice about domestic violence, separation or divorce, please contact one of our friendly and experienced family lawyers today. We offer a free, ten-minute phone consultation.