MWWT Opening Statement – Rough Sleeping \ Homelessness
MYTHS & EQUALITY ISSUES
An excellent and powerful article by Glenn Poole covers the Myths and Equality Issues surrounding male homelessness/rough sleeping.
Why aren’t homeless charities doing more to address the fact that the majority of homeless people are men, and that they need more support and protection than women, asks Glen Poole.
By Glen Poole – 1:51PM BST 06 Aug 2015
This week, the charity Homeless Link published the results of a detailed audit on the health and wellbeing of homeless men and women in the UK. In total, 27 different local authorities carried out surveys involving 3,355 homeless people, 71 per cent of whom were men.
Not surprisingly, the results revealed that the vast majority of homeless people experiencing health problems in the UK are male. So why did the charity responsible only choose to publicise the problems faced by homeless women?
It was a Press Association article published in The Guardian with the headline, “More homeless women use heroin and cocaine than men”, that alerted me to this fact. The introduction to the article also claimed that a “greater number of [homeless] women lived with mental health difficulties” and a few paragraphs later the article stated that “more women use heroin-substitute methadone than men”.
As an advocate for men and boys, my bullshit detectors are set to spot everyday sexism against men in a nanosecond (or is that a manosecond?). There is absolutely no way, I thought, that that there are more homeless women than homeless men living with and mental health difficulties and using heroin, cocaine and methadone.
So I decided to take it from the horse’s mouth and spent a couple of hours hanging out with the excellent data at the Homeless Link website, because there’s little I love more than slipping inside a fresh set of spreadsheets and comparing sexes.
This is what I discovered:
- 327 of the homeless people surveyed used crack/cocaine in the past month, 76 per cent of them were male;
- 355 of the homeless people surveyed used heroine in the past month, 77 per cent of them were male;
- 358 of the homeless people surveyed used methadone in the past month, 75 per cent of them were male;
- 2,659 of the homeless people surveyed had mental health problems, 71 per cent of them were male.
Just how statistically challenged do you have to be to look at that data and come to the conclusion that there are fewer homeless men than women using heroin, cocaine and methadone and living with mental health difficulties?
Was this a deliberate attempt, on the part of the pro-feminist Guardian, to downplay the problems faced by some of the most vulnerable men in our society? On this occasion, possibly not.
On closer inspection, it seems that this was a case of good old-fashioned, lazy, biased and bigoted sexism that assumes women of all backgrounds are always worse off than men, so when it comes to gender, there’s only one story worth telling.
And the story on this occasion was propagated by Homeless Link, who published a press release about their survey in which it chose to highlight six issues that affect a higher prevalence (though not a higher number) of women than men.
"This was a case of good old-fashioned, biased sexism that assumes women are always worse off than men"
According to Homeless Link – which represents more than 500 organisations working to end homelessness in England – what the survey showed was that there is a “need for services to understand these issues when planning interventions for women who are homeless”.
At the same time, Homeless Link actively chose not to tell the media about all the issues that affect a higher proportion and a higher number of homeless men and decided to make no mention, whatsoever, of the need for services to understand these issues when planning interventions for homeless men.
This is common practice amongst the hundreds of charities working to end homelessness in the UK. Together, they consistently fail to consider that male gender inequality is not just a symptom of homelessness but also a cause. If the majority of homeless people were women the problem would be solved a lot quicker.
Yet because we are collectively more tolerant of the harm that happens to men and boys (than women and girls), we continue to tolerate male homelessness.
Homeless charities instinctively know that the public, press and politicians are more sensitive to needs of vulnerable women, which is why they issue press releases that highlight the problems that homeless women face, while ignoring the problems that homeless men face.
If as many women killed themselves as men, we’d never hear the end of it. Homeless Link, it seems, has made no attempt to push its statistics about homeless men into public awareness so, on this occasion, I’ll do it for them.
Here are some of the key gender inequalities the research uncovered:
- Homeless men are more likely to use drugs, smoke and have an alcohol problem than homeless women;
- 77 per cent of the 1,248 homeless people surveyed who use drugs and alcohol to cope with mental health issues are men;
- 83 per cent of the 751 homeless people surveyed who say they used cannabis/weed in the past month are men;
- 72 per cent of the 426 homeless people surveyed who don’t receive support for mental health problems, but say it would help them, are men;
- 75 per cent of the 346 homeless people surveyed who don’t receive support for physical health problems, but say it would help them, are men;
- 83 per cent of the 103 homeless people surveyed who don’t receive support for problems with drug use, but say it would help them, are men;
- 75 per cent of the 124 homeless people surveyed who don’t receive support for alcohol problems, but say it would help them, are men;
- 74% of the 949 homeless people surveyed who say they’d like to stop smoking are men.
When I contacted Homeless Link to ask why they chose to put out a press release that suggests drug abuse amongst homeless women is a bigger problem than homeless men, their spokesman conceded that “overall the data shows that men have higher proportions of drug use… and alcohol problems” but noted that “the article was looking at problematic/hard drug use among women drug users”.
Homeless men have specific health needs that are not being met by local services, whether or not those men say they need support
When I pointed out that Homeless Link’s research found that the majority of homeless people who don’t receive support for mental health problems, physical health problems, problems with drug use, problems with alcohol and stopping smoking are male, the spokesman said that “[homeless] men are more likely than women to say they don’t need support and it is a mixed picture in terms of those people saying they would like help but don’t currently get any.”
To me, that’s a cop out. What all of this reveals is that homeless men have specific health needs that are not being met by local services, whether or not those men say they need support. It is a great shame that the charities who are supposed to advocate for homeless people, repeatedly fail to advocate explicitly for homeless men.
Instead, they perpetuate the very sexism that helps create the homeless problem, by treating men as an invisible gender and presenting women as the weaker (and only) sex who should be singled out for special treatment and protection. The knock-on effect of this benevolent sexism towards homeless women, is sexist discrimination against homeless men.
This doesn’t mean that homeless women don’t need help and support to get their lives back on track, because they do, but the needs of homeless men are undoubtedly greater. The failure to recognise that homelessness is a gendered issue that mostly impacts men makes it less likely that we’ll ever find a way to end homelessness in the UK.
And despite all the great work they do, homeless charities are the biggest culprits when it comes to making us blind to the gender of homeless men.
Glen Poole is the news editor of online magazine insideMAN and author of the book Equality For Men
Human Rights Act 1998
The Government has undertaken an excellent job during lockdown to cater for a whole range of homeless people (those fleeing from domestic abuse) and long-term rough sleepers, who for reasons outside their control are sleeping rough. Concerns will be raised as to what happens after lockdown.
MWWT feels that it is longer overdue for the Human Rights Act to include at least a safe shelter, food and healthy environment to be made available to all those falling into this category. Nobody should be allowed to fall through the net. All issues must be covered including safety, drug use, health conditions and all local authorities need to keep up to date registers of rough sleepers. Liaison should be made with Charities which specialise with getting individuals back onto their feet and becoming self-sufficient again.
This would require a huge undertaking by Government, Local Government and a range of Charities to pool their resources. In a caring society we need to look for all reasons to take this major step forward and not invent reasons for not undertaking this humanitarian task. Let us make this a positive outcome of the Coronavirus Pandemic.
Stephen Fitzgerald – MWWT Chairman April 2021