Spring Housing and The Housing and Communities Research Group are hosting an online event around women and ‘rough sleeping’

Wednesday November 10th, 2021 10am – 2pm

Zoom Webinar


Spring is excited to announce that we will be hosting a webinar on the topic of ‘women and rough sleeping’. This event coincides with our current dedicated outreach work in Birmingham with women who are experiencing or at risk of rough sleeping, and our continuing research and best practice work in this area.

Throughout 2020, our Head of Research and Best Practice Thea Raisbeck carried out a research and learning project in Birmingham around a ‘women-specific’ funding stream that formed part of Year 3 of the Rough Sleepers’ Initiative. This report, published in March 2021 as Violence Under Quiet Conditions, looked in depth at the experiences of women who were deemed to be rough sleeping, or at risk of doing so, and the experiences of the practitioners and stakeholders who worked alongside them. This work, continuing into 2022, seeks to understand and highlight how women’s experiences of ‘rough sleeping’ do not always, or often, align with those of men, and how women’s backgrounds, needs, and structural and systemic position as women need to be taken into account at funding, policy and practice levels. It seeks to continue to explore and put forward alternative ways to conceive of women’s experiences of ‘rough sleeping’; evidence the structural and systemic problems that compound women’s experiences, and make recommendations around future funding, strategy, and practice.

As part of this project, Thea is organising an event that brings together organisations and stakeholders who are working within this ‘space’; to share knowledge and learning, raise awareness of some of the most salient issues, and collectively create the change we want to see.

Women and ‘Rough Sleeping’: What is the issue?

It has long been an established notion within homelessness research, policy and practice in England, that women do not ‘sleep rough’ in the same numbers, or with the same frequency, as men. The ‘official’ rough sleeper counts have only disaggregated statistics by sex since 2016, and they are widely viewed overall to represent an underestimate, within a flawed methodology. The government’s current rough sleeping strategy itself acknowledges the gaps in our understanding about the needs and experiences of women, and a recent comprehensive review of research and practice around female experiences of ‘rough sleeping’ similarly stated that the evidence we have is ‘patchy’ and often small scale[1]

Women are thus often seen to be at a disadvantage within practice and provision due to a prevailing notion of ‘rough sleeping’ based largely, or only, on the experiences of men. This has led to a framework of discussion and analysis which problematises two key issues around our understanding and attitudes towards ‘rough sleeping’, how women may experience this phenomenon, and the extent to which they do so. First is a focus on the way rough sleeping is defined and counted. Second is the perceived tendency within homelessness funding, research, policy, and practice to apply a ‘hierarchy of extremity’ to forms of homelessness which neglect to understand how the ‘ways’ in which women experience homelessness can be just as brutalising, dangerous and ‘extreme’ as, for example, ‘sleeping in a shop doorway’.

Suitable emergency and longer-term housing for women is still lacking, alongside investment in specialist, women-centred provision that understands and caters for the often high levels of historic and current personal and social trauma, violence and abuse that mark women’s lives.

Why this event? Why now?

Rough sleeping, and the policy and funding priority to reduce visible homelessness has been a clear priority of the current and previous Conservative governments. Whilst in no way underestimating or underplaying the scale of the injustices that create our rough sleeping ‘crisis’, this focus leaves us with an unanswered question: what does the prioritisation on ‘rough sleeping’ in its most traditional or visible manifestations mean for women?

The unprecedented response to rough sleeping brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic – ‘Everyone In’ – has arguably shown us two things. Firstly, that rough sleeping and wider homelessness can be reduced by targeted policy and investment, and, secondly, that the required understanding and responses to women’s needs are still lacking.

Both the Local Government Association report, Lessons Learnt from Councils’ Response to Rough Sleeping During the COVID-19 Pandemic (November, 2020), and The Kerslake Commission on Rough Sleeping Final Report (September 2021) highlight how attempts to cater for the needs of women have been less effective. They show what most of us working in the sector already know: that there is an absence of strategy, planning and intelligence around women’s patterns of ‘rough sleeping’ and precarious housing and insufficient attention to, and specialist provision for, women who require both emergency and longer-term accommodation.

The Event

In order to ensure as many organisations and interested parties can attend, this session will be held virtually, via Zoom on Wednesday 10th November, from 10am – 2pm.

The scope of the issues for women and ‘rough sleeping’ or facing multiple disadvantage and homelessness is vast. It is hoped that this will be the first in a series of events that looks in depth at the issues facing women and the organisations who support them. The first event will be used as a platform to highlight some of the key areas; share knowledge, raise awareness, define priorities and help shape the content of future events in the series.


The first event will seek to interrogate and challenge ‘traditional’ ways of looking at and engaging with ‘rough sleeping.’ It will consider the way ‘rough sleeping’ is characterised, counted, and operationalised and how this can affect women. It will shine a light on the work being done by organisations in the sector to create and deliver specialist women-centred responses, and consider how women experiencing ‘multiple disadvantage’ and homelessness are currently being catered for.

Areas that will be addressed include evidence and good practice around:

  • ‘Multiple disadvantage homelessness’ and how this can intersect with traditional notions of rough sleeping
  • Issues around gender and trauma informed support and outreach models
  • Violence against women and structural and systemic harm and abuse
  • The criminal justice system
  • The current funding environment
  • How do we create policy change?


This event will be chaired by Michaela Campbell, Ending Women’s Homelessness Lead at Homeless Link

Speakers, Zoom link, and agenda will be announced nearer the time.

[1] Bretherton and Pleace, 2018