Women and girls most often a part of the “hidden homeless” as they are more likely to be couch-surfing, staying in shelters and safe houses, be sexually exploited or involved in the survival sex trade in order to obtain housing, and/or staying in unhealthy, unsafe relationships in order to stay housed. Aboriginal women are over-represented in statistics around homelessness and precarious housing. They are also more likely to be “sleeping rough” on streets than women of other ethnic groups.
The impacts of colonization are most evident in the rates of violence against street-entrenched Aboriginal women. Too often these women epitomize the last 500-years of colonial policies (of cultural dispossession, sexist policies, residential schools, the 60s scoop, the child welfare system) and all the resulting intergenerational traumas. Most are or have been involved with child welfare, have experiences of (or witnessed) sexual or physical abuse, have has traumatic experiences, and are struggling with addictions and mental health concerns.
Not having access to safe, affordable housing can force young women and girls into exploitative situations to meet their basic life needs. Homeless women are at extreme risk of being targets of sexual assault and other forms of violence.
Street-entrenched girls and women are also more likely to be active in the sex trade and be sexually exploited. Use of illegal drugs becomes a self-medication strategy, both fuelling the need to engage in sex work and providing a mechanism to cope—leading to further exploitation, violence, and degradation. According to estimates, there are approx. 100 active sex trade workers in Abbotsford and 60 in Chilliwack. Exact numbers for teenage girls in the survival sex trade locally is unknown. In BC, half of identified sex trade workers are Aboriginal.
Many street-entrenched women are forced into situations or coping strategies that increase their vulnerability to violence… and to going missing and/or being murdered.
While services and supports for street-entrenched women exist, they are not coordinated. MQHS is working to break down the silos that exist between housing and supports in order to provide comprehensive, fully-integrated, wrap-around programming to encompass all stages of the process of exiting the street. We strive towards establishing multi-dimensional, culturally-appropriate, client-centred support with a full spectrum of housing to provide more consistent support and reduce the tragic cycle of failed attempts. Our strategy include multiple partners and multi-faceted services.
While we continue to develop our programs and secure funding, we do our best to liaise between local supports, shelters and safe housings for women who are trying to escape violence, get back on their feet, and work towards their self-determined goals.