causes of homelessness among women. While there are many factors, structural and individual, which contribute to homelessness, poverty more than any other, single risk factor is responsible for women being homeless.
Homelessness has become a social problem of huge proportions. According to Caton, there are estimates that some 1% of Americans, or some two to three million people per year, seek shelter with a homeless assistance provider. Study data show that the majority of people who use homeless shelters do so on a temporary or short-term basis. Unlike the chronically homeless, not much is known about people who use homeless shelters for only a short time because of the scarcity of longitudinal long-term studies. Caton et al. argue that while cross-sectional studies on the occurrence of homelessness have provided identifying data that distinguish homeless people from the housed, it is unknown whether the same factors are also responsible for the course of homelessness.
According to a number of Canadian studies, women make up about 30% of the homeless population, making their circumstances less visible than those for men. Nevertheless, studies have shown that a large percentage of homeless women have been victims of sexual and physical violence, that women are more likely than men to experience violence while homeless, and frequently, their living on the street is a consequence of fleeing family violence (Casavant).
The factors that contribute to homelessness among women have been the subject of much debate. The need to identify these factors is compelling; such data would inform discussion on topics ranging from prevention of repeat episodes of homelessness to public policy debates on which programs to fund to facilitate the most successful outcomes. Even so, there are still gaps in understanding the dynamics of homelessness among women.
Risk factors associated with homelessness in women include "poverty, family violence, alcoholism, drug abuse, mental and physical health problems, and lack of affordable housing" (Casavant). However, by comparison with men, women are more affected by breakdown of family ties. Studies show that many women become homeless because of failed relationships Following divorce, men's income tends to rise slightly, while women's income drops, resulting in an increase in the poverty rate for women (Finnie qtd in Novac, Brown and Bourbonnais 2).
In recent years the population of homeless women, many with children, has grown substantially, causing researchers to question the relationship between homelessness and family dynamics. There is evidence that such factors as pregnancy or recent childbirth, domestic violence and lack of stability make women who are already in uncertain housing and financial conditions even more vulnerable to becoming homeless. Moreover, the increase in female-headed households correlates with an increase in women who are vulnerable to recession and housing issues connected to homelessness (Metraux and Culhane 372). Similarly, Richter and Chaw-Kant cite the shortage of affordable housing, cuts in public welfare programs, unemployment, and the lack of education and training as factors contributing to the increase in homelessness among women (7).
Studies have been conducted to investigate the primary factors that place women at risk for homelessness. There are two very different schools of thought as to which is more of a factor, structural issues such as poverty, lack of affordable housing or employment opportunities, or individual traits such as disabilities, unfortunate circumstances or family dynamics. It seems more reasonable to argue that some combination of both structural and individual issues cause an unusually high proportion of the individual characteristics to be present in the homeless population (Metraux and Culhane 372).
Richter et al. (13) also found that housing issues such as rental problems, financial issues, and eviction were the primary reasons women gave for going to shelters. Over a twenty year study period, issues related to housing continued to be the primary reason that women were admitted to shelters. Likewise, Caton et al. reported that economic problems and evictions were the most common reasons for homelessness among individuals who lived alone before becoming homeless.
Given the interaction between structural and individual factors that contribute to homelessness, it is valuable to review study data that examines housing and family dynamics. Women who have experienced previous disruptions in their living situations are especially vulnerable to repeated episodes of homelessness. Studying them over time is more likely to yield insights into the interaction between structural and individual factors within a population at increased risk of homelessness (Metraux and Culhane 372).
Study results show that women, having once been homeless, who are characteristically at higher risk for additional shelter…