(The Canadian Press)

COVID-19 increases risk for Canada’s ‘invisible’ homeless women: study

The study is the first ever comprehensive national portrait of women’s homelessness

A new research project shows women experiencing homelessness in Canada are largely invisible and falling through major gaps in support systems — and into dangerous situations.

The study, led by the Women’s National Housing and Homelessness Network, says the scope is dramatically underestimated because women are more likely to rely on precarious and sometimes dangerous support, such as by sleeping on couches or trading sex for housing.

Studies of homelessness also largely fail to count women fleeing gender-based violence and women trapped in situations of sex trafficking, according to the report.

This means the scale of homelessness among women, girls and gender-diverse people is larger than official estimates would suggest.

“The ways we measure homelessness in Canada often look really at just visible homelessness in the street, but women’s homelessness is really distinct,” said Kaitlin Schwan, senior researcher at the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness, which was involved in the report.

“The hidden nature of women’s homelessness can become invisible at the policy level and so we don’t get the kind of investments and funding that we really need to address the issue.”

Statistics Canada data from 2019 shows emergency shelters for those fleeing gender-based violence were already turning away nearly 1,000 women and children a day before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The pandemic then caused a strain on existing homelessness resources, with some shelters having to reduce services or close due to public health and physical distancing rules.

Now, with women feeling a disproportionate economic impacts from COVID-19, particularly those who are from racialized communities or single parents, Schwan said she expects more women to be homeless as eviction moratoriums begin to lift, making things more critical.

“COVID is really is going to be disproportionately affecting women, because women are much more likely to live in poverty, much more likely to be working minimum-wage jobs without security, especially if they’re single parents,” she said.

“They are going to be facing a risk of eviction that maybe they hadn’t before, so we’re at risk of having this whole new wave of women across Canada who are becoming homeless for the first time in the context of a system that was already overburdened before COVID.”

The study is the first ever comprehensive national portrait of women’s homelessness, and involved a review of all available evidence on the situation in Canada.

The study also revealed homeless women and LGBTQ people are at much higher risk of violence.

Data shows more than 37 per cent of homeless young women have experienced a sexual assault in the last 12 months, compared to 8.2 per cent of homeless young men. Ninety-one per cent of women experiencing homelessness have experienced an assault in their lifetime.

Also over the last year, more than 35 per cent of LGBTQ youth have experienced a sexual assault, compared to 14.8 per cent of youth who do not identify as LGBTQ.

The report says women who do access emergency shelters are often further harmed by bureaucratic policies, including the prospect of losing custody of their children.

Indigenous women in particular are experiencing the most profound forms of housing need in all parts of the country, and disproportionate levels of violence, the research shows, but they also remain the most underserved when it comes to both those areas of support.

Data shows 70 per cent of northern reserves have no safe houses or emergency shelters for women escaping violence, and shelters in urban centres often do not offer welcoming or culturally appropriate programs or services for Indigenous women.

Schwan says the deeply embedded and systemic shortfalls in housing and social supports for Indigenous women show the issue needs to be tackled beyond expanding emergency homeless supports.

COVID-19 offers Canada an opportunity to reimagine its overall response to homelessness, especially as many public conversations are now focused on systemic barriers that cause disproportionately negative outcomes for some populations, she said.

“Certainly, more funds are needed with respect to addressing this emergency response piece to homelessness, but honestly, more important than that is really investing in increasing our availability of affordable housing,” Schwan said.

“The solution to homelessness to people of all genders is housing.”

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Comments are closed

Just Posted

‘Protect our jobs,” say laid-off hotel workers to MLA Lisa Beare

Delegation delivered a petition to Maple Ridge MLA office on Friday

LOOKING BACK: A ride down memory lane or in this case Dewdney Trunk Road

Maple Ridge’s museum director offers a history lessson on how the major thoroughfare came to be

$75K will mean gifts for Maple Ridge man’s kids

Meneo Asperin had a rush of emotion when he thought he’d won $75 on BC/49

New Maple Ridge park to be finished this summer

Park located on the former site of the Anita Place Tent City

VIDEO: Supporters turn out to honour art gallery curator

LETTER: 40 people turned out to thank Barbara Duncan for her contribution to the arts in Maple Ridge

13 new B.C. COVID-19 cases, Langley Lodge outbreak ends

Health care outbreaks down to four, 162 cases active

Greater Vancouver home sales start to tick up, with prices holding steady

Residential sales last month reached 2,443, a 64.5 per cent jump from May

Langley Lodge’s deadly outbreak declared over

Fraser Health and long-term care home administrator confirm Friday declaration

PHOTOS: South Surrey tractor project evokes ‘$1-million smile,’ helps connect neighbours

Retired Surrey firefighter Ron Henze began project for friend’s dad to fill time during pandemic

Alberta health minister orders review into response after noose found in hospital in 2016

A piece of rope tied into a noose was found taped to the door of an operating room at the Grande Prairie Hospital in 2016

B.C.’s major rivers surge, sparking flood warnings

A persistent low pressure system over Alberta has led to several days of heavy rain

B.C.’s Indigenous rights law faces 2020 implementation deadline

Pipeline projects carry on as B.C. works on UN goals

Search continues for person seen floating in Coquihalla River in Hope

Rescuers halted the search Thursday night as darkness fell

‘Mind boggling’: B.C. man $1 million richer after winning Lotto 6/49 a second time

David O’Brien hopes to use his winnings to travel and of course keep playing the lottery

Most Read