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Women and gender diverse people largely make up the hidden homeless population, as they are less likely to access mainstream shelters, drop-in spaces, or other homeless-specific services. They tend to avoid sleeping in public spaces like parks or doorways where they may experience harassment, violence or sexual assault (Schwan et al., 2020).

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Women’s homelessness is often hidden behind closed doors. It includes couch surfing with friends, trading sex for housing, or living in a tiny, overcrowded apartment  (Schwan et al., 2020, p. 4).

Point in Time (PiT) Counts and other “snapshot” methods focus on measuring absolute/street homelessness and homeless shelter usage. These places are more typically used by men. This means that women are systematically undercounted in national homelessness data.

Women and gender-diverse people may avoid homeless-specific services for safety reasons, fear of discrimination, or fear of being reported to child welfare. Some women choose to stay in an abusive situation to avoid living in poverty or the risk of experiencing homelessness.

For all of these reasons, it is difficult to get an accurate picture of the extent of women’s homelessness. 


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: A Literature Review. Hache, A., Nelson, A., Kratochvil, E., & Malenfant, J. (Eds). Toronto, ON: Canadian Observatory on Homelessness Press.