New Study on Homeless Women in Ireland
Feb 24, 2012
Key findings from a study of homeless women in Ireland were published by Trinity College Dublin researchers, Dr Paula Mayock and Sarah Sheridan of the School of Social Work and Social Policy and Children’s Research Centre this week (23rd February 2012).
Sixty homeless women were interviewed for the purpose of the study. According to Dr Paula Mayock: “The findings of this research highlight social exclusion as a defining feature of the women’s life experiences. The vast majority suffered poverty from childhood, a large number left school early and without educational qualifications, and a majority reported low levels of labour market participation. In addition to housing instability, which many experienced from a young age, a large number reported a host of other adversities – neglect and abuse during childhood, intimate partner violence, and problems related to drug or alcohol consumption – which seriously impacted their ability to access and sustain housing. Over half had experienced repeat episodes of homelessness, suggesting that the homelessness of a large number remained unresolved, sometimes over many years.”
Dr Mayock also points out that “in Ireland homelessness has been generally viewed as a phenomenon that primarily affects men. However, the findings of this research highlight several dimensions of gendered experience and indicate that the reasons form women’s homelessness differ to those of men. Gender perspectives on housing and homelessness are critical if services are to work appropriately and effectively to meet the needs of homeless women.”
A Profile of the Homeless Women
• The average age of the women was 34.8 years (age range 18 to 62 years).
• 43 of the women were of Irish or UK origin; 17 were migrant women.
• 27 of the women were married but all were either separated or living apart from their husbands at the time of interview.
• Over two-thirds of the women were either mothers or expectant mothers. Of the 105 children of the women interviewed, 77 children were under the age of 18 years, 49 of them under the age of 12. 14 of these mothers (11 of them migrant women) were the full-time carers of their children at the time of interview. 21 mothers reported that one or more of their children were currently in the care of the HSE, living with a relative, or living with their fathers.
• 27% of women of Irish or UK origin had a history of state care.
• 72% had experienced some form of violence or abuse as children.
• 50% had experienced domestic violence in their homes as children.
• 46% had experienced sexual abuse during childhood.
• 11 of the women (all of them non-migrant women) had been incarcerated at some time.
• 15 of the women (all of them non-migrant women) had spent time in a psychiatric hospital.
The Women’s Homeless Histories
• 30% of the women first experienced homelessness as children, that is, under the age of 18 years.
• 23% first experienced homelessness as young adults, between the ages of 18 and 25 years.
• A large number of the women had spent significant periods of time in ‘hidden’ homeless situations, that is, living in accommodation that was provided informally rather than by housing or other service providers. In this sense, they were invisible from homeless services and hidden from statistical counts and estimates of homelessness.
• 45% had slept rough at some point in their lives.
• 50% of the women had experienced homelessness on multiple occasions. This pattern of repeat homelessness was strong, suggesting that for a large number homelessness was cyclical and recurring.
Women’s Journeys to Homelessness
• The evidence points to the interconnected roots of homelessness. Structural disadvantage, namely poverty and deprivation across the life course, interacted with traumatic experiences, to create vulnerability to housing instability and homelessness.
• Two-thirds of the women had experienced intimate partner violence, making gender-based violence a strong feature of women’s life stories, and one which was implicated either directly or indirectly in many of accounts of becoming homeless.
• There was a high prevalence of substance misuse across the sample. Problems related to the consumption of alcohol and/or drugs often contributed to housing instability and were invariably exacerbated by the homeless experience itself.
• Women’s homelessness was rarely a consequence of a single event, action, experience or issue; it was rather the culmination of a complex range of experiences which, together, resulted in housing instability and subsequent homelessness, very often on several, separate occasions.
The Study’s Migrant Women
• A large number of the women reported intimate partner violence and many attributed their homelessness either directly or in part to intimate partner abuse.
• Permeating the accounts of women who had experienced intimate partner violence – as well as others who did not report domestic abuse – were experiences and challenges related to their economic and social marginalisation.
• The economic difficulties encountered by migrant women were related to a range of experiences including unemployment or job loss, their economic dependence on their partners, their immigration status, and their restricted access to welfare payments and affordable housing.
• The experiences of women in domestic violence situations were exacerbated by their specific position as migrants, including their lack of English language proficiency, lack of access to the labour market, their uncertain legal statuses, and lack of knowledge about available services and supports.
• Migrant women were not well informed about homeless or domestic violence services and uncertain about the impact of their status as migrants on their eligibility for these supports.
Sixty homeless women were interviewed in depth for the purpose of the study. These women were recruited for participation in the study from a range of homeless service settings in Dublin, Cork and Galway. A questionnaire was also administered to collect data on women’s housing and homeless histories, education, families and children, income, employment, histories of violence/victimisation, drug and alcohol use, and physical and mental health. The researchers also spent extensive periods of time in four homeless service settings in Dublin city where they engaged informally. A small number of women participated in a photography projects as part of the research. Focus groups were also conducted with professionals involved directly in the provision of services to homeless women.
The findings, which were published in two research papers, Women’s ‘Journeys’ to Homelessness and Migrant Women and Homelessness, were launched at a seminar entitled ‘Women and Homelessness in Ireland’ in the Trinity Long Room Hub, Trinity College Dublin. The seminar was chaired by Susan McKay, writer and journalist, who launched the papers.
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