Since 1999, the United Nations has designated 25th November to highlight violence against women and girls (VAWG) and address the stigma and shame surrounding the issue. This International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, Dublin Simon Community is aiming to raise awareness of the unique struggle and extreme vulnerability of women in homelessness.
While gender-based violence can happen to anyone, the most at-risk groups according to the United Nations, include young girls, older women, LGBTQI women, migrants and refugees, ethnic minorities and women and girls living with disabilities.
Elayne Redmond, Supervisor with Dublin Simon Community’s emergency services says that violence is inextricably linked to the experience of women in homelessness:
“Every female client I have worked with has experienced gender-based violence in some shape or form. For some, violence has been a consequence of becoming homeless, they have been targeted while sleeping rough or on the street. For others, it’s a cause. Many of my female clients attribute their spiral into homelessness to a traumatic event like a sexual assault or abuse in childhood. Others may have fled an abusive partner. Then, of course, there are the ones who remain trapped in domestic violence or coercive control.
“Many homeless women enter relationships purely for safety reasons. When they find themselves on the street, the survival instinct kicks in and there is safety in numbers. They are less likely to be attacked if they have a partner, so they find one. Often, these relationships don’t work out and the woman might need protection. This is particularly hard to manage if both parties are shuttling between hostels and homeless services.”
According to the latest Homeless Report from the Department of Housing, Local Government & Heritage, 36% of the 6,073 adults experiencing homelessness in Ireland are women, which is on average between 3% – 13% higher than European counterparts.
While the exact cause for this is not known, Redmond says that despite the higher female distribution in Ireland, Irish hostels and emergency services are not equipped for the unique needs of homeless women:
“We are in dire need of more women’s, couples and private beds in hostels. At Dublin Simon, we do what we can with the limited resources we have to facilitate the needs of the women in our accommodation services. For example, if a woman is a survivor of abuse, being surrounded or outnumbered by men could be incredibly triggering. Where possible, we create female-only landings and spaces so women can feel safe. Our staff are trained in gender violence and work to find long-term housing situations for women where they can feel safe and free from their abuser.”
In addition to advocating and working towards the safety of women in homeless services, Dublin Simon provides a range of services to support the wellbeing of its female clients. These include workshops, counselling and linkages with partner agencies like Chrysalis, a mobile health clinic for women who are rough sleeping in partnership with Safetynet and one-to-one support to address their individual needs. Dublin Simon Keyworkers work closely with female clients on tailored support plans to help clients address challenges like relationships with their children and family, physical & mental health, sexual health, employment, education and involvement in sex work.
For more information on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, please visit https://www.un.org/en/events/endviolenceday/