‘Chronic homelessness’: what women’s experiences can tell us

Stream: Perspectives on homelessness
Date: Monday, 9 September 2019
Time: 11.30 am – 12.30 pm


In recent years there has been an increased focus in homelessness research, policy and programs both internationally and in Australia on the problem of ‘chronic homelessness’. ‘Chronic homelessness’ is generally described in terms of the length and recurrence of homelessness, and is seen as linked to rough sleeping, substance use, mental illness and high levels of emergency and other service use, and to be much more frequent among men than women.

This paper draws on research into service responses to women experiencing long term and recurrent homelessness to unsettle accepted understandings of ‘chronic homelessness’ among women. The research involved a literature review and qualitative methods with women experiencing homelessness and homelessness service providers.

The research found that the circumstances of many women experiencing long-term homelessness differ from the accepted characteristics of ‘chronic homelessness’. The operation of gender violence and poverty in creating women’s homelessness, together with the lack of low-cost rental housing means women in diverse situations may face long-term homelessness. Many women who become homeless actively avoid using services, in some cases for many years, for example if they are unaware of services or concerned that services may be unsafe, undermine autonomy or not meet their needs, but services can adopt strategies so women receive help that is specific to their needs.

These findings suggest a need to re-evaluate understandings of women’s homelessness, and accepted knowledge about long-term homelessness that is focussed primarily on those men who are experiencing visible homelessness.


Jane Bullen (Presenter), Research Consultant
Dr Jane Bullen is an independent researcher who has previously worked at the Social Policy Research Centre, UNSW and at RMIT University. Jane’s past experience includes research, evaluation, policy and program work in academic, government and non-government contexts. Her primary areas of research interest are homelessness, housing and domestic violence. Jane’s doctoral thesis analysed changes in the ways in which the phenomenon of ‘homelessness’ has been conceptualised in Australian policies, programs and services since the 1970s. She has recently completed the second stage of a research project funded by the Mercy Foundation, on assisting women experiencing long-term and recurrent homelessness