(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

Just Posted

FILE - Nathan Cullen speaks to media in Smithers, B.C., Friday, February 28, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
More calls come in for Cullen’s removal as NDP candidate

Gitxsan Hereditary Chiefs demand Cullen’s removal. Ellis says, There’s no place in B.C. for racism

BC Liberal Party candidate for the North Coast Roy Jones Jr. will hold virtual face-to-face meetings for North Coast communities on Oct. 18. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
BC Liberal Candidate Roy Jones Jr, will meet constituents virtually

Face to face conversations will be held on Oct. 18 for North Coast communities

Kelly Lynn Whitney has been acclaimed as the successful candidate on Oct. 16, in the Village of Port Clements by Election. Seen in photos Kelly Whitney-Gould is pictured putting finishing touches on “Ms. Gnomer’s Home 4 Wayward Folk.” (Kelly Whitney-Gould/Submitted photo)
Kelly Lynn Whitney acclaimed in By Election

Village of Port Clements By Election success

Stikine provincial election candidates (clockwise from top left): Nathan Cullen, NDP; Darcy Repen, Rural BC Party; Rod Taylor, Christian Heritage; and Gordon Sebastian, BC Liberals.
‘Where is Annita McPhee?’: Cullen under fire from opening salvo of all-candidates forum

Four Stikine candidates spar during online debate from Prestige Hudson Bay Lodge in Smithers

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

The BC Ferries vessel the Queen of Oak Bay. (News Bulletin file photo)
‘Buy a boat,’ Horgan advises anti-maskers on BC Ferries

NDP leader John Horgan talks COVID-19 misinformation

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Most Read