CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Streets Kitchen: ‘Gone by 43? The average age of death for women sleeping rough’

'We need to create urgent change, starting within our own Camden community'

19 November, 2021 — By Elodie Berland and Caroline Allouff

The team from the Streets Kitchen group

HOMELESS groups in Camden are currently seeing an increase in the number of people on the streets, especially women.

We are made to believe that women are prioritised. They are not.

As ever, women are the victims.

The majority of the women we meet on outreach are running away from abusive relationships, traumatised and let down by a broken system.

According to research “1.2m women in England have experienced extensive abuse as both a child and adult, and a fifth of those women have been homeless”.

According to the 2020 official count, there were 42 rough sleepers in the borough of Camden. Walking around the streets of Camden, one can immediately see the reality is very different.

Dedicated services are few and inapprop­riate. Most homeless­ness services are des­igned by default for men.

Homelessness is being treated as a crime, with the very real risk of being arrested or being “reconnected” to their local areas meaning quite often being sent right back to their abusers.

Women make a large proportion of the hidden homelessness, those sofa-surfing or staying in an unsuitable unsafe environment under the radar.

Mothers who have become homeless, and whose children have been taken out of their care are “trapped” as local authorities will not allow their children to be returned to their care until they are in accommoda­tion, but as “single persons” they are not a priority to local authorities until their children are returned to them.

The women we meet often feel safer sleeping on the streets.

Hostels or temporary accommodations are often violent environ­ments, the vast majority of which are mixed genders, and with the constant fear that your abuser will find you there.

This is why it is so important that those using services or on the streets are never identified or photographed as we have seen with brand name charities hustling for more financial donations.

Some 22 per cent of homeless women have had unwanted sexual partnerships to stay indoors, with a further 20 per cent who have engaged in prostitution to raise money for somewhere to stay.

A harsh fact is that women experiencing homelessness will die younger with the average age of death for women being 43 as compared to 80 for the general population. For men, the average age is 47 years. In the general populace women will live longer but not if homeless.

Streets Kitchen is a grassroots entirely voluntary organisation, who believe and advocate in solidarity, not charity. We have been doing so for more than eight years with our groups of volunteers – mainly women – providing services currently in 13 locations over London.

In Camden, we operate seven days a week: around Camden Town, King’s Cross, Euston, Warren Street, Tottenham Court Road.

We are seeing much more people every week, serving on average 80 meals or breakfasts a day. And all this without a local base to operate from, all thanks to the goodwill from the community and local businesses.

Seeing the reality on the streets of Camden on a daily basis, we can clearly say that we are facing a growing humanitarian crisis and as ever women are the main victims.

We need to create urgent change, starting within our own Camden community.

We always need more people to give a shift and get involved with local groups attempting to make that change.

• Elodie Berland and Caroline Allouff are from the Streets Kitchen organisation www.streetskitchen.org

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