(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

Month-long water quality advisory still in effect for Rupert residents

The City of Prince Rupert recommends those with weakened immune systems boil water prior to use

Jennifer Rice North Coast MLA seeks re-election

Northwest politicians announce intent on elections

Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Sept. 20 to 26

Rabbit Day, Hobbit Day and One-Hit Wonder Day are all coming up this week

Heart of the City – Jason Scherr

Try and Try again - Prince Rupert Seamen Rugby Club

No COVID-19 public exposures in the North Health Region at this time

Northern Health Authority issued a statement on Sept. 17

B.C. or Ontario? Residential school survivors fight move of court battle

It’s now up to Ontario’s Court of Appeal to sort out the venue question

B.C. transportation minister will not seek re-election

Claire Trevena has held the position since 2017

Young B.C. cancer survivor rides 105-km with Terry Fox’s brother

Jacob Bredenhof and Darrell Fox’s cycling trek raises almost $90,000 for cancer research

B.C. migrant, undocumented workers rally for permanent residency program

Rally is part of the Amnesty for Undocumented Workers Campaign led by the Migrant Workers Centre

Preparations underway for pandemic election in Saskatchewan and maybe B.C.

Administrators in B.C. and around the country are also looking to expand voting by mail during the pandemic

Nearly 20 per cent of COVID-19 infections among health-care workers by late July

WHO acknowledged the possibility that COVID-19 might be spread in the air under certain conditions

Ferry riders say lower fares are what’s most needed to improve service

Provincial government announces findings of public engagement process

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Application deadline for fish harvester benefits program extended

Those financially impacted by the pandemic have until Oct. 5 to apply

Most Read