The Unique Experience of a Woman without a Home

This International Women’s Day, #ChooseToChallenge the gender inequity arising in the experience of homelessness.

Women face unique challenges when they do not have a home. Read on to learn more – and consider supporting some of the women-serving organizations in Calgary listed below.

FACT: Women are less likely to be recognized in homelessness data[1]

According to Calgary’s 2018 Point-in-Time Count, 25% of the nearly 3,000 Calgarians experiencing homelessness were women.

Source: 2018 Point-in-Time Count Report

However, homeless counts may significantly underestimate the number of women experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity because women are more likely to seek shelter with family, friends, or partners to survive, even if these arrangements are precarious or dangerous.[2]  

Source: Schwan, et al., (2020)

Knowing less about the true extent of women’s experiences of homelessness means that it is harder to reach them with the help and supports they need.

FACT: The rate of women-led households in core housing need in Canada is almost double the rate of men-led households. [3]

Of the 1.7 million people experiencing core housing need in Canada in 2016, 28% of these were women-led households – almost double the rate of men-led households (16%).

FACT: 68% of shelter beds in Canada are co-ed or dedicated to men, compared to 13% for women.[4]

Research shows that many women may avoid mainstream homeless shelters because they do not feel safe.

According to a Calgary-based study, four key factors helped women exit homelessness: safety, time, a community of women with similar experiences, and a supportive environment and resources to recover from trauma.[5] A lack of dedicated shelter beds—and the feeling of security it brings—means that women may have a harder time exiting homelessness.

FACT: Homelessness is uniquely dangerous for women

According to national data, 91% of women who have experienced homelessness have also experienced assault in their lifetime,[6] with 37% experiencing a sexual assault compared to 8% of men. This can mean that women feel safer remaining in a violent or exploitative relationship than on the streets or in shelters.[7]

FACT: Women without homes also experience menstruation inequity.

The high cost of sanitary products and the lack of privacy makes it difficult to manage the physical and emotional aspects of a period while experiencing homelessness. According to Rhian, who has experienced homelessness, “When it was hurting a lot, I just had to sit down for a bit, just on the bench. I had nowhere else I could go.”[8]

The Women’s Centre of Calgary is accepting personal care donations during office hours.

Source: Schwan, et al., (2020)

Events in our community:

The United Way of Calgary and Area is hosting the Choose to Challenge discussion about creating a more equitable world on March 8 at noon.

The Women’s Centre of Calgary is holding an International Women’s Day Online Celebration on March 8 at 6 p.m.

Hear from women advocates and leaders, including the founders of The51 at Financial Feminism: Sharing the Wealth on March 8 at 4 p.m.

If you want to support women experiencing homelessness, please consider supporting the following organizations:

Aboriginal Friendship Centre
Alcove Addiction Recovery for Women
Aventa Centre of Excellence for Women with Addictions
Awo Taan Healing Lodge
Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association
Calgary Pregnancy Care Centre
Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter
Elizabeth Fry Society
Elizabeth House
Highbanks Society
Next Step Ministries
Recovery Acres Society
RESET Society of Calgary
Rowan House
Sonshine Community Services
Sunrise Healing Lodge
The SHARP Foundation
Wheatland Crisis Society
Women In Need Society
Women’s Centre of Calgary
YWCA of Calgary

[1] Schwan, K., Versteegh, A., Perri, M., Caplan, R., Baig, K., Dej, E., Jenkinson, J., Brais, H., Eiboff, F., & Pahlevan Chaleshtari, T. (2020). The State of Women’s Housing Need & Homelessness in Canada: Executive Summary. Hache, A., Nelson, A., Kratochvil, E., & Malenfant, J. (Eds). Toronto, ON: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.

[2] Maki, K. (2017). Housing, homelessness, and violence against women: A discussion paper. Women’s Shelters Canada. Retrieved from Bretherton, J. (2017). Reconsidering Gender in Homelessness. European Journal of Homelessness, 11(1), 1-21.

[3] Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. (2019b). What We Heard The Unique Housing Needs of Women. National Housing Strategy. Retrieved from

[4] Employment and Social Development Canada. (2019a). Highlights of the National Shelter Study 2005 to 2016. Ottawa. Retrieved from

[5] Sarah Fotheringham, Christine A. Walsh & Anna Burrowes (2014) ‘A place to rest’: the role of transitional housing in ending homelessness for women in Calgary, Canada, Gender, Place & Culture, 21:7, 834-853, DOI: 10.1080/0966369X.2013.810605

[6] McInnes, S. (2016). Fast Facts: 4 things to know about women and homelessness in Canada. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Retrieved October 21 2018 from

[7] Walsh, C. A., Rutherford, G. E., & Kuzmak, N. (2009). Characteristics of Home: Perspectives of Women Who Are Homeless. The Qualitative Report, 14(2), 299-317. Watson, J. (2011). Understanding survival sex: Young women, homelessness and intimate relationships. Journal of Youth Studies, 14(6), 639-655.

[8] Vora S. (2020) The Realities of Period Poverty: How Homelessness Shapes Women’s Lived Experiences of Menstruation. In: Bobel C., Winkler I.T., Fahs B., Hasson K.A., Kissling E.A., Roberts TA. (eds) The Palgrave Handbook of Critical Menstruation Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, Singapore.