Investments in this strategy aim to reduce barriers to housing that disproportionately impact women and LGBTQ individuals, ensuring affordable access to safe housing. The below high-level overview and associated metrics pack are intended as a gender lens complement to the Navigating Impact Affordable Housing theme.
Women who live below or near the poverty line, as well as gender and sexual minorities (GSM), are among the populations most vulnerable to homelessness or housing insecurity. Among the various contributions to this vulnerability are economic disempowerment resulting from inequalities in professional opportunity, limited access to or control over economic resources, and disproportionate exposure to gender-based violence.
The association between gender-based violence and homelessness is well-documented, with domestic or intimate-partner violence accepted as one of the leading causes of homelessness or housing insecurity for women (1). While global homeless populations are mostly male, women, adolescent girls, and GSM are affected by and driven to homelessness in different ways than men. As a result, their housing and housing-stability needs differ from the general homeless population. Investments in affordable and adequate housing can:
Rates of homelessness vary by country. Some illustrative statistics include the following:
Differences in country-specific definitions of homelessness and the existence of hidden populations not captured by studies mean that the size of the female and GSM homeless population is likely underreported. Experienced policymakers and practitioners note that safety concerns make women less likely to “sleep rough”—that is, sleep in open air or in places not intended for habitation—and their resulting movement between temporary locations makes them harder to track (8). Moreover, women and GSM are especially vulnerable while homeless, as they are regularly subjected to sexual and physical violence and other forms of crime and exploitation.
Women: Women are disproportionately impacted by housing insecurity. Experiencing sexual and reproductive health challenges while homeless or insecurely housed can exacerbate women’s vulnerabilities, challenges that can include lack of access to menstrual products, clean water, maternal healthcare, or childcare. Domestic violence is also a substantial problem for homeless women. An estimated 63% of homeless women have experienced intimate partner violence as adults, and 25% of homeless women report that family violence of any type is the main reason for their current homelessness (9,10). Projects with integrated support that reduces barriers to housing stability—including flexible payment schedules, childcare services, and services for victims of domestic abuse—can improve outcomes for women.
Veteran Women: An increasing percentage of homeless veterans in the United States are women (11). Many experienced sexual assault or repeated sexual harassment while serving in the military and feel betrayed by the institution and the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA). Consequently, they do not seek services and support that may be available to them as veterans (12). Investments in housing linked to supportive services can address female veterans’ specific needs—including physical and mental health care, counseling, and employment services.
Transgender and Other LGBQ Individuals: Transgender individuals face extreme rates of homelessness and housing instability. Rejection by families means LGBTQ youth, for example, comprise 20–40% of all homeless youth in the United States (7). Housing projects linked with supportive services—such as tailored physical and mental healthcare and policies and procedures prohibiting and actively preventing LGBTQ discrimination—can greatly improve outcomes for these individuals.
Homeless and insecurely housed populations live everywhere around the world. The most recent global housing-focused survey, conducted by the United Nations in 2005, estimated a worldwide homeless population of 100 million, with up to 1.6 billion people occupying inadequate housing (2). Therefore, investments in any geography can adopt a gender lens to address homelessness and housing insecurity.
Investments in projects that specifically consider and address the needs of women and GSM in a particular context when implementing policies to reduce housing instability and ensure equal access will likely be significantly better than projects that do not take such considerations into account. In some cases, the resulting new or supportive housing could be the difference between life and death.
Given women and GSM's typical share of developed countries' total homeless populations, roughly 40–50% of homeless populations could experience positive change from investments in accessible and affordable housing projects implemented with a gender lens.
The following are examples of change experienced by women and GSM through projects aligned with this strategy:
Evidence Risk: The effective application of a gender lens to investments in housing to reduce homelessness requires an analysis of homelessness in the target geographic area disaggregated by gender. This analysis may be difficult to conduct for an inexperienced gender-lens investor, even assuming that sufficient information, accurate data, and statistics are available. Partnering with an existing, local organization dedicated to addressing the homelessness of women and GSM may help investors to overcome these risks.
Execution Risk: Commitment to understanding and incorporating a gender lens is critical to the success of this strategy. Straying from a gender-specific approach will lead to general impact in the housing or homelessness sector instead of addressing the specifically gendered dynamics of homelessness. Such investments could even perpetuate some of the persistent gender-based inequities present in homeless populations. Overcoming execution risk requires social impact investors to recognize and prioritize the value of understanding how gender dynamics affect homelessness trends.
Failure to adequately address these risks could dilute positive impact and potentially lead to negative impact by not responding to the actual needs of clients and/or target beneficiaries or not considering potential unintended consequences of the intervention.
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European Federation of National Organisations Working with the Homeless (FEANTSA), “The Links Between Violence Against Women and Homelessness,” Background Paper, July 3, 2015, https://www.feantsa.org/download/vaw_background_paper_final507550159640577037.pdf.
“Global Homelessness Statistics,” Homeless World Cup Foundation, September 12, 2018, https://homelessworldcup.org/homelessness-statistics/.
“What Proportion of the Homeless in France Are Women?,” Institut National D‘études Démographiques (INED), June 27, 2017, https://www.ined.fr/en/everything_about_population/demographic-facts-sheets/faq/proportion-homeless-france-women/.
Meghan Henry, Anna Mahathey, Tyler Morrill, Anna Robinson, Azim Shivji, and Rian Watt, The 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) to Congress, Part 1: Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and Abt Associates, November 2018), https://www.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/2018-AHAR-Part-1.pdf.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “Health Care for Homeless Women,” Committee Opinion No. 576, October 2013, https://www.acog.org/Clinical-Guidance-and-Publications/Committee-Opinions/Committee-on-Health-Care-for-Underserved-Women/Health-Care-for-Homeless-Women.
Yumiko Aratani, “Homeless Children and Youth: Causes and Consequences” (brief, National Center for Children in Poverty, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, September 2009), http://www.nccp.org/publications/pdf/text_888.pdf.
“Housing & Homelessness,” National Center for Transgender Equality, https://transequality.org/issues/housing-homelessness.
Women’s Budget Group, “Women, Safety and the Housing Crisis: Engagement with Policy Makers” (report of a workshop hosted at City Hall [London], July 3, 2017), https://wbg.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/PDF-Final-Report-Women-and-the-Housing-Crisis-Workshop-July-2017.pdf.
National Network to End Domestic Violence, “Domestic Violence, Housing, and Homelessness,” fact sheet, 2017, https://nnedv.org/mdocs-posts/domestic-violence-housing-and-homelessness/.
“Family Homelessness Facts,” Green Doors, http://www.greendoors.org/facts/family-homelessness.php.
Jim Absher, “Female Veterans Are Fastest Growing Segment of Homeless Veteran Population,” Military.com, March 28, 2018, https://www.military.com/militaryadvantage/2018/03/28/female-veterans-are-fastest-growing-segment-homeless-veterans.html.
National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, “Homeless Female Veterans,” http://www.nchv.org/images/uploads/HFV paper.pdf.
Sarah Hutchinson, Anna Page, and Esther Sample, Rebuilding Shattered Lives: The Final Report (London: St Mungo’s, November 2015), https://www.mungos.org/publication/rebuilding-shattered-lives-final-report/.
“Case Studies: St. Mungo’s,” What We Do, Big Society Capital, https://www.bigsocietycapital.com/what-we-do/investor/case-studies/st-mungos.
“Our Impact and Evidence,” Refuge, https://www.refuge.org.uk/our-impact-and-evidence/.
This mapped evidence shows what outcomes and impacts this strategy can have, based on academic and field research.
This is a longitudinal and quasi-experimental study examining the safety, housing stability, service utilization and health outcomes for abused women and their children who have accessed housing and domestic violence programs after leaving an abusive relationship in a medium-sized metropolitan area.
This study evaluated the relative benefits of community-based step-down housing. Comparisons were made between female patients in community step-down housing and a control group in secure hospitals who were on the waiting list for the houses. The final assessment shows a significant increase in psychological well-being and security needs within the community step-down housing group.
This article examines an innovative safe haven model for providing services targeted at hard-to-serve clients: chronically homeless, mentally ill women. The slow, incremental changes and decisions that mentally ill homeless women make can only be appreciated overtime. To suggest that such changes can take place overnight denies the reality of many of these women’s lives.
This mixed-method study seeks to evaluate the impact of short-term shelters by gathering both quantitative and qualitative data from a sample of 40 young women who had been homeless prior to arriving at the shelter. The outcome evaluation showed that, at a 3-month follow-up, the participants reported significant improvements in housing, income, independence, and life satisfaction, but that most continued to experience poverty and a number of other difficulties.
This qualitative study identified promising programs across the United States for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) runaway and homeless youth (RHY). Successful programs were characterized by five novel program components: a strong reliance on clinical evidence; use of a trauma-informed approach; provision of safe, stable, and supportive housing; incorporation of peer providers from the LGBTQ community; and opportunities for reciprocal learning between LGBTQ and heterosexual RHY.
This meta-analysis seeks to analyse the effectiveness of interventions for female victims of IPV as administered during and/or after their residence in a shelter in terms of mental health, re-abuse and social outcomes. The authors found that shelter interventions were effective in improving mental health outcomes, in decreasing abuse and in improving social outcomes in shelter-based abused women. This analysis also suggests that interventions provided during and after stay in a shelter are effective in improving mental health, abuse and social outcomes.
This quasi-experimental study examined the contribution of women’s internal resources (self-esteem and empowerment) to their life satisfaction, as well as the contribution of integration (participation and commitment) in the shelter at the time of their arrival to their satisfaction with their life. Findings indicate that, among the group of women who stayed in the shelter, personal resources as well as participation and commitment contributed to their life satisfaction. Among the group of women who left the shelter, only commitment contributed to life satisfaction.
This RCT tested the feasibility and effectiveness of a social support intervention with women while they were in a domestic violence shelter. Those in the intervention group had greater improvement in psychological distress symptoms and greater improvement in perceived availability of social support than the control group. The intervention group showed less healthcare utilization than the control group. Social support interventions for women in shelters are effective in improving health outcomes.
This secondary data analysis examined whether length of shelter stay relates to the number and types of needs survivors reported at entry, as well as the amount of help they received from staff. Having collected information from survivors shortly after they arrived in shelter and shortly before exit, the result shows that the majority of participants believed they could now achieve the goals they set for themselves, and 91% felt they could do more things on their own. 90% reported having more ways to plan for their safety, and 89% reported knowing more about their options.
This quasi-experimental study examined the effectiveness of a domestic violence shelter and tested the impact of a self-compassion support group curriculum on outcomes valued by shelters such as autonomy, emotional restoration, and safety. The findings are in line with other shelter evaluations showing women in shelter experience a decrease in depression and anxiety as well as an increase in autonomy, ability to obtain resources, and overall well-being.
Each resource is assigned a rating of rigor according to the NESTA Standards of Evidence.
Number of unique client individuals whom the organization served and to whom it provided access, during the reporting period, to products or services they could not access prior to the reporting period (refers to first-time access to formal financial products or services).
Organizations should footnote all assumptions used.
Organizations should disaggregate data by gender, location (urban, semi-urban, or rural), race, ethnicity, disability, and any other priority segments for the organization.
This metric defines whether clients are able to access support services to which they did not previously have access.
Indicates whether the organization has a written policy for client protection and a system to monitor compliance with this policy.
This metric provides data on how policies in place protect clients. This is critical to understanding how enterprises ensure the safety of their clients from potential dangers, such as homelessness.
Describes the type of non-financial support the organization offers to clients, if applicable, and the number of clients who received it during the reporting period.
Organizations should footnote types of non-financial support offered and any assumptions made.
Examples of non-financial services include education (in vocational training, financial literacy and financial management), female empowerment (e.g., legal services for female victims of violence), and healthcare (e.g., mental health services, specialized medical services for women and children). For guidance on tailoring support services to survivors of violence, investors can refer to the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s Domestic Violence Housing First Checklist, Program Assessment Tool, and Community Assessment Tool.
Investors interested in providing resources to support continued housing stability for formerly homeless individuals or other vulnerable groups may use this metric to track the provision of those services. Supportive services in and of themselves do not indicate performance toward outcomes and impacts. However, this qualitative metric can indicate whether an investee has begun to consider the role that supportive services can play in retaining and advancing the beneficiaries of their project.
Flexible financial assistance refers to unrestricted funds used to help individuals become stably housed.
Organizations should footnote types of support offered, any restrictions on obtaining support, and any assumptions made.
Flexible financial assistance can be particularly beneficial to survivors of violence. Some examples of flexible financial assistance may include covering expenses related to housing (rental applications, rental assistance, deposits, utilities); transportation (driving lessons, fuel, or car repair); child care; and employment (work permits, transportation, education, training programs). For further guidance, investors may refer to sample policies and forms produced by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Studies have shown that some survivors of violence can avoid homelessness if they have access to immediate funds, coupled with housing advocacy and support, in times of urgent need. This metric can help users identify whether they have put in place policies that can support women and GSM in these circumstances.
Organizations should footnote the source of their data, as well as all assumptions used in their calculations.
Number of individuals who have previously suffered domestic violence, intimate-partner violence, or sexual abuse who were housed in single- or multi-family dwellings as a result of new construction, loans, repairs, or remodeling resulting from investments made by the organization during the reporting period.
This metric is most relevant for investors working directly with domestic violence shelters or service providers. This information should be collected anonymously and voluntarily and should not be required to access services or housing.
This metric is intended to capture the number of individuals who suffered abuse and who were provided with affordable housing through the investment. Investors should measure this at an individual level and disaggregate the data by gender, footnoting how many individuals are heads of household. Organizations may also disaggregate the data by location, race, sexual orientation, age, ability, and any other priority segments for the organization. Organizations may also want to report this metric alongside the total number of individuals or families housed as a means of understanding what proportion of their investee’s residents were previously abused.
This metric provides data on how policies in place protect clients. This is critical to understanding how enterprises ensure the safety of their clients from potential dangers, such as homelessness. For investors interested in working to address the disproportionate number of homeless survivors of abuse, this metric is a key indicator of impact.
Measures the extent to which the built environment is safe for people living, shopping, visiting, enjoying, or spending time in an area.
Organizations should footnote any assumptions made.
For guidance assessing an area’s safety, investors can refer to “Combating Gender-Based Violence in Cities: Personal Safety Audits” in the World Bank’s Making Urban Development Work for Women and Men.
This metric assesses the safety of areas where individuals are housed, which impacts their mobility, self-efficacy, and overall well-being.
Measures the extent to which the built environment is friendly to the presence of people living, shopping, visiting, enjoying, or spending time in an area.
Organizations should footnote any assumptions made.
Investors can refer to the Pedestrian Environment Review System in the United Kingdom, Walk Score in the United States, and Walkability App in Asia. A walkability audit can be performed for neighborhoods that have not yet received a rating; for guidance, investors can refer to the Australian Department of Transportation’s Walkability Audit Tool.
This metric assesses how easily residents can walk to amenities such as grocery stores and public transit, which is important for ensuring residents without cars can access employment and nutrition. Higher walkability is also associated with improved health and quality of life outcomes and can help a neighborhood reduce carbon emissions.
Indicates whether survivors of violence housed report experiencing greater safety as a result of access to housing and support services.
Organizations should footnote any assumptions made.
Investors should disaggregate data by gender, location (urban, semi-urban, or rural), race, ethnicity, disability, and any other priority segments for the organization. Organizations may want to report this metric alongside the total number of survivors of abuse housed as a means of understanding their impact on this particular segment.
This metric helps investors measure whether housing interventions are resulting in greater safety for those housed.
Indicates whether individuals housed experience greater social connectedness as a result of access to housing and support services.
Organizations should footnote any assumptions made.
Investors should disaggregate data by gender, location (urban, semi-urban, or rural), race, ethnicity, disability, and any other priority segments for the organization.
This metric helps investors measure whether housing interventions are resulting in greater social connectedness for those housed, which decreases survivors’ vulnerability to violence and feelings of hopelessness, increases access to community resources and opportunities, and contributes to overall well-being.