Scottish Women and Homelessness

Simon Community Scotland have been providing specialist services to women experiencing or at risk of homelessness for many years. In that time we have seen first hand the increased challenges, vulnerabilities and risks women experience because of their gender. That said, we have also been privileged to be part of women’s incredible journeys where resilience, tenacity, determination and humour, sometimes very dark, has kept them standing.

In Scotland there has been very little research done into the realities for women who are homeless or roofless. Despite being the largest provider of specialist women’s services, the majority of people we work with are male, around 80%. With around 34,000 homeless applications each year in Scotland, around 20% are single women and 17% are women with dependants.

It is rare to find women living on the street or rough sleeping in Scotland, and today in 2022 there are less than 30 people sleeping rough across our two main cities. We know that women are very good at finding quiet, hidden places to sleep rough.  Quite often this is the only option, as they risk experiencing physical and sexual violence on the streets. Off the streets they may have options to stay with others, usually men, and usually at a high price to their physical, sexual and mental wellbeing. One woman who was in such a position commented that at least she knew what kind of beating she was going to get, as opposed to the risks she faced on the streets.

We often talk about women and hidden homelessness, largely because they have to make additional efforts to protect themselves from predators, exploitation, abusive partners and the unanticipated risks they face daily.

How can we help?

We currently provide direct access, emergency, supported accommodation and housing first tenancies and our street teams work very hard to protect women on the streets and get them a safe place to stay. Sometimes, we’ll book a hotel which gives women control. This means that there are no expectations of them and they remain outside of the homelessness services where they may want to avoid people they are familiar with.

We provide specialist groups and interventions ranging from harm reduction to managing loss and we also provide lots of distraction and mindfulness therapies to add fun and relaxation into women’s lives.

We have an amazing team of Period Friendly volunteers working across the city to ensure no women experiencing homelessness should ever be without sanitary products. We began this project in response to the dreadful experiences women had on the streets when menstruating, using leaves, rags and paper. You can hear Tricia’s story here

We provide specialist services for women who use drugs, often to manage the trauma in their lives and have even developed a mobile app alongside women who use our services, the first of its kind in Europe – By My Side.

How can I help?

The easiest thing you can do is add our freephone number to your contacts so if you see a woman you are worried about you can call our street team and we’ll respond straight away.

We’re currently developing a women’s centre and we’re needing lots of things, mostly cash donations to refurbish the property and deliver the service, but we’re also looking for volunteers that can bring care, compassionate and support along with skills that can make a real difference to the women we’re supporting; therapies including counselling, art, music, storytelling, stress management, harm reduction, health improvement, beauty treatments or just being lovely and listening. 

We never underestimate the power of a caring and trusting relationship in bringing about healing. Our approach to being #OneTeam is built on our compassion, empathy and commitment to people through our staff, our volunteers and in the people we support. It’s a challenging but great team to join as a volunteer or a team member.