Hidden homelessness is defined in the Canadian Definition of Homelessness within the category ‘provisionally accommodated’ as:
People living temporarily with others, but without guarantee of continued residency or immediate prospects for accessing permanent housing
Hidden homelessness creates some interesting questions for the homeless-serving sector as these individuals have current access to some form of accommodation, even if it is not necessarily safe, permanent, adequate, or inclusive of necessary supports. In the context of service prioritization, attention tends towards those who are chronically homeless, sleeping rough, or emergency sheltered. So, should the homeless-serving sector be responsible for those experiencing hidden homelessness?
For women, research by Danielle Groton and Melissa Radey uncovers some of why it is as important to support women in this experience of homelessness, as in any other experience. In their research study ‘Social Networks of Unaccompanied Women Experiencing Homelessness‘, they interviewed 20 women with lived expertise and spoke to the positives and negatives of social networks. They used a constant comparative method to uncover themes from the interviews.
One key theme in their research is Support as a Drain. This theme sheds light on how for 14 of the 20 women, members of their social and support networks were abusive. While these social networks provide the provisional accommodations that prevented absolute homelessness, this often comes at a huge personal cost. These women described horrifyingly traumatic experiences of sexual assault and violence by partners or family members. To remain housed in this way often became a worse option than seeking shelter or sleeping rough.
So what does this mean? This means that hidden homelessness, particularly for women, is a serious social concern and requiring of support. Indeed, from a systemic perspective, this also tells us that moving women from hidden homelessness to safe, permanent, affordable, and supportive housing of their choice is an effective means of homelessness prevention. While service prioritization can help us get the correct supports to those who are sleeping rough or emergency sheltered, it shouldn’t mean that we ignore other forms of homelessness experienced in Canada.