Women sleeping rough on the streets are at significantly increased risk of sexual exploitation, a West Yorkshire charity has warned on International Women’s Day.
Simon On The Streets has said the majority of the women it has assisted through Yorkshire over the past two years have engaged in “survival sex” to keep a roof over their heads.
The charity has run a two-year funded project from the government’s Tampon Tax fund to employ specialist outreach workers who support homeless women in Leeds, Kirklees and Bradford.
But as the funding comes to an end on March 31, the charity has warned that more women in Yorkshire are at risk of exploitation.
Simon On The Streets has found permanent accommodation for thirteen of the 65 women it has helped through the project over the past two years, with the majority of the rest finding temporary accommodation.
The charity said the relatively low number of women finding permanent accommodation reflects the difficulties in adjusting from life on the streets.
One Leeds woman in her 50s has significant mental health and drug problems but was able to be successfully adjusted by Simon On The Streets into permanent accommodation, including help with budgeting and meal planning, and is now working to overcome her addiction.
Another, a Leeds woman in her 20s, was approached by the charity as she was a migrant from the EU and was told she had no recourse to public funds. The woman has regularly been exploited for sex by a man who told her she must sleep with him in order to stay on his office floor.
The charity was able to find her a space in women’s specialist housing.
Chief executive Natalie Moran said: “Many women who experience homelessness are often hidden from the public, from services and from official statistics.
“They are more likely to be among the ‘hidden homeless’ as they will make efforts to hide away or stay in exploitative situations to avoid sleeping on the streets.
“It is often a long and difficult journey from homelessness to being independent and in your own house, but we continue to support people regardless of how long it takes.”
According to government statistics, 14 per cent of rough sleepers in the UK are women and research shows that the average age of death for a homeless woman is just 42 years old.
Some 28 per cent of homeless women have formed an unwanted sexual partnership to get a roof over their heads.
Simon On The Streets has been offering street-support to individuals who have complex needs and cannot access mainstream services, due to behavioural issues or mental illness, since 1999.
A report in 2018 found women sleeping rough tend to be younger and are significantly more likely than men to be aged 25 or under.