Let’s be #EachforEqual for women who are homeless
Author: Fay White
Last year on International Women’s Day, Focus Ireland wrote about the increased rates of female homelessness in Ireland. In the space of a year, the situation for homeless women in Ireland has only gotten worse. In this blog post, Fay White from the Advocacy Team writes about the role we all have to play in fighting for the rights of women who are homeless in Ireland.
The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day is #EachforEqual. We are challenged this Sunday 8th of March 2020 to recognise our part in ‘Collective Individualism’, recognising that we all have a part to play in creating a more equal society and world. In celebrating the achievements of the women who contribute to Irish society, we must not lose sight of the strong, resilient women who are in emergency accommodation, living in domestic violence refuges with no idea of where to go next, living in overcrowded and unsafe conditions and the many more who live day to day in fear of losing their private rented accommodation.
The Unspoken Impacts
The average life expectancy of a woman in Ireland today is 84, but the average age of death for a single homeless woman in Dublin is just 38.
Dr Clíona Ní Cheallaigh, consultant in inclusion health at St James’s Hospital, recently spoke about the social exclusion that homeless women experience, and how this can impact on their health. Particularly for homeless women who are mothers, they face significant barriers to being supported emotionally and physically and reducing the isolation they can experience in emergency accommodation.
Women who are parenting on their own in emergency accommodation are often subject to strict rules as some emergency accommodation for families does not permit visitors. The mental toll of this social exclusion and isolation can have devastating impacts for some women. In December 2019 the mother of a young woman who was found dead in her emergency accommodation in 2018 spoke out about the effects that the isolation of not being allowed to have visitors after an extended period of homelessness had on her daughter.
In some cases, new mothers who are homeless are being discharged from hospital with their new-borns into one night only emergency accommodation. The Mercy Law Resource Centre published a report into the practical experiences that homeless families were going through and have reported several cases of new mothers being discharged from hospital with their new-borns into one night only emergency accommodation. One night only accommodation is the most insecure form of emergency accommodation and this means that new mothers and their babies must leave the accommodation in the morning and cannot return until the evening. An equal society is not one which leaves women recovering from giving birth to roam the streets during the day with their new born babies. One night only accommodation is a regressive and dehumanising policy which deprives women and families of their basic right to shelter and as long as this is in place we cannot count our society as being even close to equal.
In some cases, new mothers who are homeless are being discharged from hospital with their new-borns into one night only emergency accommodation
Representation of Women in Politics
Homelessness is the result of bad policies and real change and equality needs to come from the policy-makers whose decisions in government affect us all. We know from Focus Ireland research that in Dublin almost two-thirds of homeless families are headed by lone parents, and almost all of these are women. The issue of family homelessness is a women’s issue and the policies necessary to address this issue need to take the lives of women who are mothers and primary carers of their children into account. However, looking at the structure of the government elected from the General Election, just 36 of the 160 TDs elected to the Dáil are women. There are 12 constituencies in the country which have no women to represent them. The National Women’s Council ran an event on female participation in politics to celebrate International Women’s Day, in which our elected female TDs gave their opinions on the issue. Holly Cairns from the Social Democrats was elected and now stands as the only women in Cork elected to the Dáil. Holly spoke at the event saying:
“We can’t actually govern a society that promotes equality if it doesn’t exist within our government,”
Focus Ireland is proud to have supported over 15,000 people last year. Many of these were women; resilient women who spend so much time caring for other people that there is no time left to care for themselves. This International Women’s Day, let us not forget about the women carrying the mental and physical load of being homeless and push for a society which values all of its citizens.
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The Covid-19 pandemic puts people who are homeless at risk disproportionate risk – not only are they more likely to have underlying health issues, they are unable to follow the key recommendations –wash your hands regularly, stay at home and keep a ‘social distance’ from other people.
Having access to accurate data is key to informing policy and services responses to tackle homelessness. It is equally vital to have the information behind the numbers to be able to clearly understand trends as they develop, and respond accordingly.
Having access to accurate numbers is key to informing policy and services responses designed to tackle homelessness. It is equally vital to have the information behind the numbers to be able to clearly understand trends as they develop.