What is homelessness?

Having a safe, secure place to live is one of the most basic human rights, and something that most of us take for granted. Facing homeless as a result of trying to keep yourself and your children safe is a harsh reality for far too many women.

Myth: People are homeless because they are unemployed and suffer from substance abuse and/or mental health issues.

In reality:

The largest single reason that single women, young women and women with children seek help from services for homelessness in Australia is family violence.

Having a safe, secure place to live is one of the most basic human rights, and something that most of us take for granted. So, when you’re facing the prospect of having nowhere to sleep, let alone a place to call ‘home’, it is natural to assume that there will be some sort of accommodation, somewhere, that you can access. Sadly, this is not always the case.

While there are services that may help you resolve your housing problem, the reality is that there simply isn’t enough affordable accommodation to meet ever-growing needs. Long waiting lists, complex application processes, limited funds and often very basic or unsuitable accommodation can make a distressing situation even worse.

Ultimately, learning about what is available, how you can access it, and the benefits and disadvantages of the various options will not only help you decide what is best for you and your situation, but may minimise the stress associated with finding somewhere to live.

What counts as homelessness?

There are degrees of homelessness but it is typical for someone without a safe and secure home to experience different types of homelessness over time.

Homelessness can mean:

  • Couchsurfing — this is moving between friends and family
  • Moving between emergency accommodation such as refuges and hostels
  • Living for long periods in unsuitable accommodation — this is any living situation that is unsuitable and which may continue for 13 weeks or longer
  • Sleeping rough on the street
  • Sleeping in your car

Women are less likely to sleep rough. For women, homelessness can mean starting out staying with friends and family, and then sleeping in the car in between short stays at different boarding houses and shelters. At times women may also choose a companion for a night to get a roof over their head rather than sleep rough.

How did I get there?

Twenty-six per cent of women and children seeking crisis accommodation are escaping family violence.

Women and female-headed households are at increased risk of homelessness because they are more exposed to violence, poverty and inequality. Escaping family violence is the most common reason women give when they seek assistance from specialist homelessness services.

However, with high competition in the private rental market and the shortage of public housing, many women are now experiencing longer periods of homelessness and longer stays in emergency accommodation. It’s the same for both single women and women with children.

Family Violence

Facing homelessness as a result of trying to keep yourself and your children safe is a harsh reality for far too many women. Facing homelessness when escaping family violence may mean you do not have access to money. This means facing the challenge of finding safe and affordable accommodation in the ‘private rental market’ with little resources. The private rental market refers to those rental properties that are owned by landlords and are usually managed by licensed real estate agents.

Unfortunately one in every two women who approach services for women escaping family violence are turned away because there aren’t enough resources or accommodation. Women in rural and remote areas have less access to assistance from services, family, friends and police. This puts them at increased risk of homelessness or unsafe housing.

Realities for young women

Young women who grow up in families affected by family violence are more likely to be in violent relationships as adults. Family breakdown and family violence are two of the main reasons young women seek support from specialist homelessness services.

For some young people, parental separation and the arrival of a step-parent can cause conflict that makes home life seem untenable. For young people fleeing physical, sexual and emotional abuse, reconciliation with their families may not be possible.

In contrast to people in other age groups, there are more young women who are homeless than young men.

Women — the hidden homeless

Myth: Homeless people are single older men, uneducated, poor and with low socioeconomic status.

In reality:

More women than men seek assistance from the homelessness service system each year.

  • 69,237 women received support from specialist homelessness services. That’s 63% of all people who were assisted (2016-17)
  • 40 % of primary homeless people (sleeping rough) are women
  • 48% of secondary homeless (staying with family or friends) are women
  • 28% of tertiary homeless (living in insecure accommodation like boarding houses) are women

This information sheet was last updated in 2017. You can also download our 2012 Information Booklet “Dealing with a Housing Crisis” but please note that some of the resources are out of date.

Where can I go for help?

If reading this article has raised issues for you, you can contact WIRE at any time between 9am and 5pm Monday to Friday.

Contact us here

Stay updated

Subscribe to our monthly community and professional newsletters! Stay in the loop with our upcoming events, project activities, resources and support groups for women, non-binary and gender diverse people.