Women are the 'Forgotten Homeless'

- By Joce Bignold
CEO McAuley Community Services for Women

 In recent weeks, two children and one woman were killed in Victoria due to family violence. Understandably, Victorians were horrified. A media frenzy followed with headlines, interviews and opinion pieces about the issue, but not once was homelessness mentioned.

The fact is that one in every two women in Australia who comes with children to a specialist homelessness service, such as McAuley, cites escaping domestic and family violence as their main reason for seeking help.

McAuley runs Victoria’s only 24/7 crisis service as well as five refuges. While they stay with us, we provide a roof over women and children’s heads, food and clothing.

Where do women and their children go once they leave our refuges and longer term accommodation? In March, for instance, nine women and their families stayed with us for up to two weeks before leaving. Three of the 28 women returned home, eight went to refuges and the remainder to family and friends to sleep on couches or in cars in driveways.

We also run McAuley House, which provides medium- to long-term residential accommodation for single, homeless women over the age of 25. It also continues to offer support for women who have lived at the house, but who have moved into their own accommodation.

For all the women we work with, finding safe, affordable housing to set up afresh is hampered by an acute shortage of affordable, low-cost accommodation.

But women are not just hampered because of limited appropriate housing.

They are also shortchanged by homelessness programs and policies such as street to home which are skewed towards rough sleepers, the majority of whom are men.

This is despite the fact that of the 20,000 Victorians who are homeless, 45 per cent are women.

The focus of homelessness is on sleeping rough - Today women are the forgotten faces of the homeless. They are an afterthought.

While we can significantly help women and children at the moment they flee or find refuge for whatever reason, longer-term solutions are needed.

McAuley is stepping up its campaign for new housing programs that look after women, with or without children, whatever age and stage of their lives.

This campaign is working on many fronts. It is about lobbying policy makers for systemic change, as well as maintaining and increasing McAuley’s current services.

McAuley relies on donations to provide many of our services: you can help us by donating or volunteering.