The Hidden Suffering of Women Sleeping Rough Revealed
19 November 2018 at 4:34 pm
Australian women sleeping rough are suffering significantly higher rates of serious medical conditions like cancer, diabetes and asthma compared to male rough sleepers, according to a new report.
Researchers from the Centre for Social Impact at the University of Western Australia (CSI UWA) analysed interviews with 853 women sleeping rough in Australian cities between 2010 and 2017.
These interviews – conducted by Australian homelessness services for data collection purposes – found that compared with rough sleeping men, women sleeping rough were much more likely to experience asthma (46 per cent vs 28 per cent), diabetes (14 per cent vs eight per cent) and cancer (11 per cent vs six per cent).
Report author and CSI UWA director Professor Paul Flatau told Pro Bono News this was an extremely alarming finding.
“Women who are rough sleeping are experiencing serious health issues at a very high rate, and these are conditions with a high risk of mortality,” Flatau said.
Women sleeping rough also presented more frequently at hospital emergency departments, the report said.
The average healthcare cost for female rough sleepers was found to be $11,904 a person over six months. This puts the cost of these health services at $20.3 million annually.
Launching our @UWASocialImpact findings today in #Brisbane on health outcomes and healthcare utilisation and costs among women sleeping rough across Australia – The (women’s) word on the streets: The health and social costs of #homelessness among women pic.twitter.com/Q4tms5N04F
— Paul Flatau (@PFlatau) November 13, 2018
Researchers also found that Indigenous women made up 39 per cent of female rough sleepers, despite only 3.3 per cent of Australian women identifying as Indigenous.
This is almost double the proportion of male rough sleepers who identified as Indigenous (21 per cent).
Flatau said this highlighted a need for specialist support for Indigenous women sleeping rough.
“Unless you have Indigenous workers working with Indigenous women in cities, and obviously in remote areas as well, solving the problem will be difficult,” he said.
“So a culturally appropriate response is needed.”
As part of the interviews, women were asked: “What do you need to be safe and well?”
Almost all responses included reference to a home or shelter, and over half said they wanted their children back.
“My own place, sometimes I get scared laying on the street and it’s cold,” one respondent said.
“A house where you can have family [so I can] get my son back,” another woman said.
Flatau said often there was not a separate focus for women in homelessness service delivery, which needed to change.
He called for governments to focus on a rapid housing response that included support for vulnerable women.
“The approach we need is a housing-first response with support that addresses women’s health and child protection needs, and to some extent their employment needs as well,” he said.
“Around Australia we already have a greater commitment to this response… it just needs greater investment.”