Women’s Services Survey

The Challenge

For decades, Canada has faced a homelessness crisis. But not all faces of homelessness have been truly seen, understood, or counted in. The 1990’s divestment and privatization of social housing to municipalities, left many poor and low income Canadians without home. Women (cis and trans), disproportionately impacted by low income, became subject to the unintended consequences of this divestment and many were left homeless: with or without their children. The impact and sequelae of this divestment remains, and today more women are experiencing homelessness than in the past. But just how many women and girls are homeless, remains unknown. Without accurate national counts of who and how many are homeless, the problem remains grossly underestimated and misunderstood.

What is known, is that the experience of homelessness is gendered and women, girls and transgender women experience homelessness differently than those of other gender. This includes not only the challenges women and girls face during episodes of homelessness and transitions into permanent housing, but also the myriad risk factors women are already confronted by as they move through society (e.g., poverty, trauma, interpersonal violence). There is a distinct difference between those of other gender and women’s safety during experiences of homelessness. In efforts to seek safer alternatives than public spaces and services, women and girls become less visible to society as they rely on friends, relatives or previous partners for accommodation. This hidden nature of women’s homelessness is associated with the common misrepresentation and underreporting of the extent of the issue, as well as fewer community services tailored specifically to support women and girls’ needs.

It is both a human right and social good to ensure that every woman and girl has a safe, affordable, accessible, and permanent place to call home. Due to its gendered nature, responses to prevent and end women and girls homelessness must include both a gender-based analysis and approach. This ensures that the many diverse and intersecting social locations that women and girls occupy are realized and that community responses are tailored to their unique needs. The call to use a gender-based approach in community planning on homelessness has been voiced by researchers, leaders, advocates, and allies, however the question remained of how Canadian communities have/are responding to women’s and girls’ homelessness:

  • In which ways are (or are not) Canadian communities including a gender-based approach within community plans to end homelessness?
  • Where gendered approaches are lacking, what are the barriers or limitations to their inclusion?
  • Where gendered approaches exist, what are facilitators to enabling them?

The Partnership

 This project represents a partnership between All Our Sisters (AOS) and a researcher from the Centre for Research in Health Equity and Social Inclusion (CRHESI) at the Faculty of Health Sciences, Western University. All Our Sisters is a diverse collaboration of people interested in the specific issue of women and homelessness in Canada. All Our Sisters strives to network, exchange knowledge, and engage in relevant events and advocacy. Focused on safe, sustainable housing for women, the coast to coast to coast reach of AOS creates an excellent partnership to achieve multi-level impact.

The Funding

 This Project entitled “Exploring the Presence of Gender-Based Approaches to Women’s Homelessness in Canadian Communities” received funding from AOS, however, the views expressed are the personal views of the author and AOS accept no responsibility for them.

Ce projet intitulé « Explorer la présence d’approches sexospécifiques de l’itinérance des femmes dans les communautés canadiennes» a reçu un financement d’AOS, cependant, les opinions exprimées sont les opinions personnelles de l’auteur et AOS n’accepte aucune responsabilité à leur égard.

The Process

 A mixed methods descriptive survey was sent out to service providers across the country from January- March 2020 through various dissemination channels including relevant social media, e-mail distribution lists, websites, collaborative networks, online contacts, and within organizations servicing women and/or girls experiencing homelessness. Survey questions asked participants to rate their level of agreement with varying statements relating to the unique nature of women’s homelessness, and whether women’s needs are met through service delivery. Open ended questions invited participants to provide further information and elaborate on their views. While COVID-19 did change the course of the recruitment process, 107 participants responded to the survey: the majority were feminist identified women who lived in mid-size cities in central Canada and were frontline workers with 10+ years working in the homelessness sector.

Our Research Team:

Abe Oudshoorn – Kayla May – Amy Van Berkum – Kaitlin Schwan – Alex Nelson – Faith Eiboff – Stephanie Begun – Naomi Nichols – Colleen Parsons


Study methods and results are available in the project report which can be downloaded below:


Funding for this project was provided by :

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 Based on the findings from this study, we have the following recommendations:

  • Collect and develop accurate data on homelessness experienced by women and girls, including the diversity therein (e.g., transgender, Black, Indigenous, and women of colour).
  • Bring/provide awareness of effective gender approaches to ending homelessness to empower leaders to create meaningful change.
  • Enhance the diversity of who participates in decision making, including those with lived experience(s).
  • Eliminate or reform policy that continues to limit and restrict diverse women’s choices.