Nearly one in four female rough sleepers has been sexually assaulted in the past year, according to new research from national charity for homeless people Crisis.
Drawing on a survey of 458 recent or current rough sleepers in England and Wales, including a total of 72 women, the report also shows how nearly six in 10 have been intimidated or threatened with violence in the past year (compared to four out of 10 male rough sleepers).
The figures feature as part of a Dispatches special, to be aired on Channel 4, examining the unforgiving realities of life on the streets for homeless women.
The documentary features ‘mystery shoppers’ with experience of homelessness approaching a series of local authorities for assistance. In many instances, they are turned away without help or meaningful advice despite presenting with mental health issues, learning difficulties or fleeing domestic abuse.
Rebecca Pritchard, director of services at Crisis, said: “This edition of ‘Dispatches’ paints a deeply disturbing portrait of life on the streets for women.
“The threat of unprovoked sexual attack, abuse and intimidation is clearly never far away, which is why we need mainstream homelessness services that provide safe, women-only spaces that women feel comfortable accessing and seeking help from.
“While the investigation highlights the severe pressure local authorities are under, we need to make sure that homeless women can get help at an early stage.
“At present, homeless people of both sexes are often turned away when they go to their councils for help.
“The Homelessness Reduction Bill currently making its way through parliament could help put an end to that injustice once and for all, and we urge peers of all political persuasions to offer their support as it moves through the Lords.”
Cllr Martin Tett, housing spokesman for the Local Government Association, said: “It is a tragedy when anyone becomes homeless and we know many people sleeping rough will be vulnerable to crime and exploitation and are likely to have complex support needs.
“Councils have been working hard to tackle domestic abuse and people who are homeless as a result of fleeing domestic violence can access services provided jointly with local partners including the police, health and the voluntary sector, while the Government’s commitment to more mental health spending is a step in the right direction but it must ensure it reaches the people it is designed to reach.
“Councils want a review of welfare reforms to consider any impact on homelessness and a housing policy that supports all partners to increase the homes they build across all tenures. With a 40 per cent reduction in local government funding over the last Parliament, it is important that any costs of new measures to prevent and resolve homelessness are matched by new money from government.
“To end homelessness the government needs to give councils more powers and funding to resume their historic role as a major builder of affordable homes and to address the widening gap between incomes and rents.”