Home > Findings from a study of homeless women in Ireland.

Keane, Martin (2012) Findings from a study of homeless women in Ireland. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 42, Summer 2012, pp. 10-11.

[img] PDF (Drugnet Ireland issue 42) - Published Version

A research paper by Mayock and Sheridan1 presents findings from an in-depth qualitative investigation of homelessness among women in Dublin, Cork and Galway. Data were collected from 60 women aged 18–62, using life-history interviews and a questionnaire to record socio-demographic data. Data were also collected by observation at four homeless services in Dublin City, by involving a small number of the women in a photography project, and by focus groups with providers of services to homeless women. The 60 women who participated in the research were either homeless at the time of data collection or had experienced homelessness in the preceding six months. The paper focuses on the women’s routes or ‘journeys’ into homelessness.

When interviewed, 40 of the women were living in either emergency or transitional homeless accommodation; of the remaining 20, four lived in domestic violence refuges, four in long-term supported accommodation, three with a family member or friend on a temporary basis, one in a dilapidated house, one was sleeping on the street, and seven had recently entered private rented accommodation following a period of homelessness.
Education, employment and income source
Twenty-one of the 43 women of Irish or UK origin had no formal educational qualifications; a further 13 had progressed to Junior Certificate level prior to leaving school early. The women reported strained relationships with teachers and difficult home situations which impacted adversely on their early schooling. In contrast, 16 of the 17 migrant women interviewed had completed the equivalent of leaving certificate level or higher, and nine had achieved a third-level qualification. All but one of the 60 women were financially dependent on welfare payments.
Relationship status and children
Twenty-seven women were married, but all were either separated or estranged when interviewed; 21 reported being in a current relationship and 13 of these partners were also homeless. Forty-one women were mothers, with a total of 105 children between them, and three were expecting their first child when interviewed. Of the 105 children born to the women, 77 were aged under 18 years and 49 were aged under 12 years.
First experience of homelessness
Eighteen women had experienced homelessness as children, i.e. before the age of 18, of whom four had become homeless directly after leaving a care setting. Fourteen women first experienced homelessness between the ages of 18 and 25; these women tended to report longer histories of homelessness and more complex needs than those who became homeless later in life, related, in many cases, to traumatic childhoods, drug and alcohol misuse and mental health issues.
Hidden homelessness and rough sleeping
A large number of the women had spent periods of time in ‘hidden’ homeless situations, staying with friends or a family member for short time periods. To paraphrase the authors, these living arrangements concealed these women from homeless services and statistical counts of homelessness, thereby rendering them the hidden homeless. Twenty-seven of the women had slept rough at some time, 16 for a period exceeding one month.
Poverty and deprivation during childhood
A majority of the women had grown up in low-income households in disadvantaged areas and a number had spent time as children in homeless hostels with a parent, usually their mother. These episodes of family homelessness were often related to parental drug and alcohol misuse and/or domestic violence.
Violence and abuse during childhood
Forty-three of the women reported having experienced some form of abuse or violence as children; 30 had experienced domestic violence, either as victims or witnesses, with the violence most often perpetrated by their fathers. A small number reported domestic violence by a mother or a brother. Parental alcohol and drug abuse was often a factor in the domestic violence experienced by these women. Twenty-eight of the women reported sexual abuse during their childhood.
Histories of state care
Twelve of the women had spent periods of their childhood in state care, and all of these reported housing instability in adulthood, an experience often related to difficulties adjusting to life outside the care system. Four women reported sexual abuse in a state care setting.
Substance use and misuse
Thirty-seven of the women reported a current (32) or past (5) substance abuse problem. Ten named alcohol as their current primary substance of misuse and a further two named alcohol combined with cocaine. The remaining 22 women used heroin, often combined with cocaine, crack cocaine and benzodiazepines. According to the authors,
Substance misuse posed significant challenges for a large number of the women and had negative consequences for their health and well-being. For the majority, drug and alcohol use preceded first homeless experiences and some women attributed the loss of housing to problems arising from alcohol or drug use. However, substance misuse was rarely the sole presenting issue or problem at the time women first entered homelessness. Furthermore, problems related to drug or alcohol consumption were invariably exacerbated by the homeless experience itself. (p.12)
Factors influencing a return to homelessness
An important feature of this research is the focus on both entry to and exit from homelessness. Half of the women interviewed reported multiple episodes of homelessness. The authors identify some of the ‘triggers’ that led to some women returning to homelessness; these included the transition from institutional settings such as places of detention, psychiatric hospitals or state care facilities. For example, some were unable to secure housing following time in prison and often returned to emergency accommodation where they became further entrenched in drug use and repeat offending. Other women reported problems in sustaining their housing tenancies because of disputes with landlords, domestic violence, drug and alcohol use and a general inability to cope with the financial and emotional demands of independent living. Eighteen women were using medication for depression and a further 20 had been prescribed such medication in the past; 15 had spent time in a psychiatric hospital.
This report is a welcome contribution to the knowledge base on the nature of homelessness among disadvantaged people in Ireland. The experiences of homeless women is a field of inquiry that has often been overlooked in the past. The experiences documented in this report paint a vivid picture of the role of childhood poverty and deprivation, childhood trauma and abuse and family breakdown and addiction in the lives of these women. Contained in the narratives is evidence of the lasting influence that these experiences had on their subsequent entry into homelessness and on their many unsuccessful attempts to exit homelessness. The legacy of these fractured childhoods is inextricably linked in adulthood with their alcohol and drug misuse and mental health issues. Finally, it is hoped that the gender perspective conveyed in this research can, in the words of the authors, ‘…critically inform and influence policy and help to ensure that services work appropriately and effectively to meet the needs of homeless women’ (p.16).
1. Mayock P and Sheridan S (2012) Women’s ‘journeys’ to homelessness: key findings from a biographical study of homeless women in Ireland. Women and Homelessness in Ireland, Research Paper 1. Dublin: School of Social Work and Social Policy and Children’s Research Centre, Trinity College, Dublin. www.drugsandalcohol.ie/17047


Repository Staff Only: item control page