Are men more likely than women to be homeless?
Certain people, who have much invested in a myth that feminism is basically Bane from The Dark Knight Rises*, claim that men are 94-97% of homeless people. More realistic estimates that are both properly cited and not disproved by basic observation propose that men make up about 67.5% of the single adult homeless population and 35% of adult members of homeless families, which means that men make up approximately 59.7% of homeless people.
Unfortunately, there are many reasons to believe that that might be an inaccurate number.
For obvious reasons, it is very difficult to study homeless people. A lot of usual methods of studying a demographic– Internet surveys, phone calls, placing ads, going door-to-door– are unlikely to be particularly helpful for studying homeless people since they, you know, don’t have homes. The US Conference of Mayors study that the 59.7% speculation came from, for instance, is about sheltered homeless people. Unsheltered homeless people may have very different demographics. Just off the top of my head (without saying that there is necessary any validity in these speculations), men may feel safer sleeping in public, while women may feel driven to seek shelter, meaning that men are less likely to show up in the statistics. Or women might be more likely to end up in survival sex situations where they trade sex for shelter for the night, which means that they don’t have to stay in the shelter. One gender may be more likely to couch-surf or to squat than another.
There are, however, some very good reasons to believe that women are undercounted in the statistics.
First, women’s domestic abuse shelters are not included in homelessness statistics, even though if you’re living in a DV shelter you clearly do not have a home. Women may be more likely to double up in welfare hotels and other forms of temporary housing, which means that some homeless women will live with other poor/homeless women instead of on the streets or in an ordinary homeless shelter. Homeless sex workers– a group which includes more men than women– may often stay at a house or motel with a client, which means that they’re not available to be counted.
Many cities have far more available beds for men than for women; if there are a thousand beds in the city for men and five hundred for women, you’re going to count a lot more men in the shelter than you will women. Even if you count the people you turn away, the women may be dispirited and stop showing up to be counted. Second, women tend to be in families, and families tend to stay in shelters longer-term than single adults do. If your shelter has a hundred beds and there’s turnover every night, you’re probably going to count more homeless people than you will if the same two dozen families come to stay every day.
Some studies have suggested that homeless women are more likely to live in suburban and rural areas. Since most studies of homelessness are done in cities, women would be massively undercounted. However, that’s still mostly speculative, as far as I know, because it is even harder to count homeless people in suburban areas than it is to count them in cities.
Let me be perfectly clear about what I’m not saying: I’m not saying that men are less likely to be homeless than women. I’m saying that I don’t know if men are more likely to be homeless than women. There are some factors that lead to homelessness (veteran status, drug abuse, imprisonment) that disproportionately affect men; there are some factors that lead to homelessness (domestic abuse, some mental illnesses) that disproportionately affect women.
But the thing is that it shouldn’t matter. Homelessness is not some kind of Oppression Olympics game where the gender that has the most homeless people gets to claim to be oppressed for eternity. Homelessness is a problem that we should all be working to end, regardless of what fucking gender is most involved in it.
*If I’m Bane, how come I’m not having sex with Marion Cotillard now? Huh? EXPLAIN THAT, assholes.