Pregnant women experiencing homelessness left in the lurch
6 March 2020 at 3:12 pm
Experts say pregnancy is a key period to help vulnerable women turn their lives around
Parts of Victoria’s housing and homelessness service systems are failing to prioritise the needs of pregnant women who are homeless, new research reveals.
A study from RMIT and La Trobe universities found that many pregnant women could not access long-term safe and secure housing until very late in their pregnancy, or until after their baby had been born.
Lead researcher RMIT Professor Suellen Murray said the report highlighted serious gaps in the homelessness and housing systems.
“We interviewed women who’d slept rough, or in their car, couch surfed, or lived in rooming houses while they were pregnant,” Murray said.
“Without the basic needs of shelter and stability met, it was very difficult for these women to prepare for motherhood, practically, physically and emotionally. This had negative consequences for the mother and baby.”
Researchers spoke to 14 women aged 20 to 36 who had experienced homelessness while pregnant.
Half of the women disclosed a history of mental health issues, while two-thirds reported experiencing alcohol and/or drug problems.
Most of the group had also experienced family or other forms of violence.
Dr Theresa Lynch, manager of the Women’s Alcohol and Drug Service at the Royal Women’s Hospital, said pregnancy was a key period to help these women turn their lives around.
“We see women who have had really difficult lives, and having a child is what motivates them to do differently – to seek help for mental health issues or addiction, to leave an abusive relationship, or to deal with past trauma,” Lynch said.
“Having stable housing is a crucial part of the equation. It not only helps the woman to live in a safer, healthier environment, it also means that their children are growing up in those environments. The benefits are intergenerational.”
The report made several recommendations to remedy the situation facing pregnant homeless women, including ensuring pregnancy is considered as a critical factor for determining housing and support access, and increasing supply of safe and affordable long-term housing.
Researchers called for specialised training to be developed for homelessness and housing service workers to help vulnerable pregnant women.
As services aren’t required to collect that data from their clients, it is not known how many women experiencing homelessness are pregnant at any given time in Victoria.
The report said knowing the number of women in this situation could better inform policy and service system development in the future.