According to a recent study carried out by Trinity researchers, the number of homeless women in Ireland is far higher than the European average. The research also found that the current homeless figures for women and children are inaccurate due to underreporting.
Nationally, 42% of homeless people are women, while in the Dublin region the figure rises to 47%. Although some European countries, such as France, have a similar number of homelessness females, the Irish figures are significantly higher than the European average, which lies between 20% and 33%.
The number of homeless women in Ireland is likely to be even higher than this, however. The number of females reported as homeless are inaccurate as they do not include the number of women staying at domestic violence refuges, Assistant Professor at the School of Social Work and Social Policy and co-author of the study, Dr Paula Mayock, told RTE’s Morning Ireland yesterday. While other European countries count women and children staying in domestic violence refuges among their homeless population, Irish government statistics do not.
The study cited previous research of 60 homeless women, where it was found that almost two thirds had experienced intimate partner violence.
The researchers also discovered other reasons behind the underreporting of female homelessness. It was found that women are less likely to register as homeless for fear of being stigmatised, and often occupy spaces of “hidden” homelessness, for example, by staying temporarily with family members, friends and acquaintances.
The report also refers to research carried out across Europe, which highlights women’s distrust of services set up to cater for homeless people. This distrust is often due to the infantilization they report to experience in these services, and the perception that their independence and decision making capabilities are not recognised. This also appears to be another reason for the underreporting of female homelessness.
Almost two thirds of homeless single parents are female, the research found. These women are typically in the 20s and 30s and have one or two children. It was found that a majority of them became homeless after losing privately rented housing. The number of homeless mothers are also likely to be underreported, the researchers found, as women who become homeless were often separated from their children prior to homelessness, and then recategorised from mothers to “single” or “unattached” once they become homeless.
The report points to evidence to suggest that services are failing to respond to issues that affect women, and argued that government policy must stop prioritising the stereotypical homeless figure of the single male breadwinner over single mothers.
In a press release, Dr Paula Mayock argued that “in Ireland, policy responses to homelessness lack gender sensitivity and models of service provision are primarily oriented towards the needs of homeless men”.
Previous research conducted in Ireland found that the majority of homeless women are homeless for more than two years. To this, Dr Mayock stated in a press release: “Existing homelessness services remain stubbornly focused on responding only to the most urgent and basic needs of women through the provision of short- or medium term accommodation rather than on the provision of permanent housing. Large numbers of women therefore become ‘trapped’ in systems of emergency response that are poorly equipped to address their housing and other support needs.”