Rough sleeper charity Simon on the Streets changed its name this week as it focused on the issues faced by women who are homeless.
Taking to social media as Simone on the Streets, the charity joined forces with The Joanna Project to share the stories of female rough sleepers, highlight statistics and look at some of the practical challenges.
Supporters also staged a two-hour ‘sleep out’ in Leeds city centre to coincide with International Women’s Day.
Armed with sleeping bags and placards, they gathered on Briggate to take the message out to the wider public.
Gordon Laing, general manager at Simon on the Streets, said: “When we’re out talking, nobody ever asks particularly about women. They just don’t think they’re rough sleepers.”
According to government statistics, 14 per cent of rough sleepers in the UK are women.
Studies suggest three in 10 women experience sexual violence while homeless, and nearly one in four female rough sleepers have been sexually assaulted in the past year.
One woman who shared her story had left care and had no place to call home. She slept on floors and sofas before slipping into sex work without fully realising it as violent ‘boyfriends’ demanded sex in return for shelter and food.
Gordon said: “We teamed up with The Joanna Project because what a lot of people don’t realise is an awful lot of sex workers are homeless.”
The Joanna Project, based in Leeds, works with vulnerable women who have life-controlling addictions and are often involved in street prostitution.
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But as the social media campaign developed, it was not physical risks that the charity’s followers said would be their biggest worry.
“I thought it would be more about danger, but it was the sanitary issues,” Gordon said. “The biggest thing has been all the sanitary issues women face that men don’t. It’s really hit a chord with them.”
What a lot of people don’t realise is an awful lot of sex workers are homeless.Gordon Laing, general manager of Simon on the Streets