LIFESTYLE

Heartbreaking Stories Of Homeless Women Reveal Startling Insight Into Their Lives

27/03/2015 18:09 GMT | Updated 30/03/2015 09:59 BST

The last time you walked down the street and spotted a homeless person - did you notice their gender?

I have to admit, I'd been ignorant to it until I came across former pianist, Anne Naysmith's obituary in February. The homeless woman, also known as 'the car lady of Chiswick', had been killed tragically in a road accident aged 77.

Naysmith - who I'd never heard of prior to this terrible news - had lived in a dilapidated car in Chiswick, London, for 26 years after being evicted from her home. Prior to that, she'd been a talented pianist who performed Rachmaninov’s Preludes Op 23 to the masses at Wigmore Hall.

homeless women

Naysmith's story got me thinking about women living on the streets. Mainly - what lives did these women lead before they arrived on this rocky road?

After digging a little deeper into the matter of women and homelessness, it became apparent that among the single homeless population, women are very much in the minority.

In fact in England, they make up just 26% of those helped by homelessness services.

On the face of it, this is great news. But why is this the case? Are there actually less homeless women?

Or is there a group of women who remain invisible, hidden away from the statistics and head counts of homelessness shelters and living in dangerous situations that could put their lives at risk?

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Startling facts issued by homeless charity Crisis reveal that there are high levels of vulnerability within the female homeless population, with various issues plaguing women such as mental illness, drug and alcohol dependencies, childhoods spent in care, experiences of sexual abuse and other traumatic life experiences.

When Crisis interviewed some of the women they helped, they found - rather despairingly - that 20% of them had become homeless in order to escape violence from someone they knew.

The majority of these women (70%) were fleeing from a partner.

Homeless women are also more likely to have greater levels of mental illness than men, says the charity, often as a result of physical and sexual abuse.

Additionally, their research shows that women who sleep rough are often in danger of being subjected to physical attacks, as well as verbal and sexual abuse.

Seeing no way out of their situation, 28% of homeless women have formed an unwanted sexual partnership and 20% have engaged in sex work - just to keep a roof over their heads.

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On a smaller, more localised scale, the Telford Crisis Network's, Jake Bennett, says there's a fairly even split between the people they help.

However there are still less women that use the service - 43.9% are female compared to 56.1% who are male.

Bennett suggests a few reasons why this may be: "I think it's because women are more resilient," Bennett tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle. "They know the importance of having their own support group of friends. Women also communicate better and are willing to share more of what is going on in their lives with their support group.

"Men tend to hold back on anything that shows them to be weak," he adds. "Also, women actively seek out help prior to a situation getting worse whereas men might take a little longer to come to terms with a situation."

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In the past nine years, one homelessness centre - who kindly provided the stories below - reported an increase from 7.7% to 23.5% in the number of homeless women they assisted.

"A number of these women are leaving care," a spokesperson for the centre tells HuffPost UK Lifestyle. "Some of the women have complex problems and have exhausted the resources of many but they still remain extremely vulnerable."

Some of the stories behind these women are heartbreaking, and involve histories of sexual abuse and neglect from their families. Others suffer from mental illnesses or learning difficulties. They refuse help, drifting haphazardly from bad situation to worse.

There are also those who just happen to be having a run of bad luck. One woman lost her job and ended up living out of her car, which proves that really, it could happen to anyone.

Here are their stories...

Telling The Stories Of Homeless Women


While some of these stories have uncertain endings, there are some who do end up in a happier place and are able to access help.

Often, women are able to get help if they are pregnant or have dependent children, says a spokesperson for Crisis. This is because they meet council criteria for being in ‘priority need’, which means councils have a duty to house them.

With the help of the Telford Crisis Network, Jake Bennett reveals that one girl who was sleeping rough under some railway arches was also able to get back on her feet.

"We found her and, with the help of other charities, managed to access accommodation, clothing and food for her," he says. "Shortly after we'd found her, the girl found out that she was pregnant.

"I can't begin to imagine how she would've coped if she'd still been sleeping rough while pregnant, it would've been absolutely awful. But thanks to our help, she's now had a baby, they're both fine and most importantly, they're safe."

The next step for homeless women, says Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, is that "we urgently need a review of the law in England so that no-one is forced to sleep rough".

"We need to ensure that funding is protected for women-only services where people can feel safe and comfortable accessing support.”