New Brunswick

Homeless women less visible, more vulnerable: Moncton YWCA director

When people think of homelessness, they imagine homeless men, and that may be because homeless women are less visible — and more vulnerable — according to the YWCA acting director.

Governments need to approach homelessness with a "gender lens," says Michèle Nadeau

Moncton's homeless are struggling to find an affordable place to live with many vacant buildings that were once rooming houses boarded up or torn down and shelters over capacity. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

When people think of homelessness, they imagine homeless men, and that may be because homeless women are less visible — and more vulnerable — according to the YWCA acting director.

Michèle Nadeau of the YWCA in Moncton says the number of women without a home may be much higher than what is reported, because some women don't feel safe in co-ed shelters.

Instead of going to a shelter, women couch surf with friends or family, sleep in their cars, or they would get a roof over their heads "in exchange for sexual favours," Nadeau said. That's why she said Moncton needs a dedicated shelter and more affordable housing for women.

"Basically our images when we think of homelessness is of men on street corners," Nadeau told Information Morning Moncton. "But also there are women that are homeless, a lot of them actually, but they're more hidden."

It's estimated 27.3 per cent of the homeless population is women, but Nadeau said that may not be an accurate representation because homeless women are not as visible as homeless men.

She said some women have either been abused at shelters or are offered drugs when they're trying to keep sober.

"We do have shelters that are co-ed in Moncton… However, a lot of women don't feel safe," she said.

And the women-only shelters for people fleeing violence are at capacity, she said.

She said homeless women vary in age, but most often they're in their early 20s or younger.

Open letter to MLAs

The YWCA, which is an organization that also provides housing for homeless women with children and women trying to get out of the sex trade, signed an open letter along with other women's groups and sent it to MLAs across the province.

Part of the letter calls for more funding from the governments — specifically a commitment from the government that 25 per cent of a $40-billion national housing strategy to go directly to women's housing issues.

"We hear a lot of different issues that are happening in our community and lot of them are about women not having equal opportunities or the same treatment as men, and it's sad that we're talking about this in 2018," she said.

"But that is a reality."

Nadeau said that's why the government must look at homelessness through a "gender lens" and understand the unique challenges facing women. Some may be in abusive relationships and find it difficult to leave because they have a child; some are entangled in sex trade.

"We want to believe that times are changing, but I think it's through perseverance and not being quiet about these issues I think that we'll see the change that we need to happen," Nadeau said.

With files from Information Morning Moncton

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