Women's experiences of homeless services
: one city in time

  • Linda Sherwin

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Academic research focuses on a narrow sector of female homelessness such as domestic violence, identity or health, at the expense of that which questions women’s experience of homelessness services. This thesis addresses that gap, building a holistic picture of women’s experiences of homelessness and their needs in exiting homelessness. It offers in-depth insights into the experiences of single adult women using homeless services, and the views and experiences of professionals working within those services. These insights not only contribute new knowledge, they also draw attention to the disparity of views that exist, and the challenges this creates in providing appropriate services. The thesis employs an innovative mix of creative methods and semi-structured interviews, building narratives of eight ‘single’ adult women exploring their experiences of the services they use. Integrated reflections of my positionality and journey as a practitioner-researcher are also provided.

Research finds a delay for women receiving support once they become homeless. One factor is the way that homelessness is defined by women. It differs to the professional’s definition and impacts women’s ability to access timely support. Linked to the way in which women identify themselves, and are identified within society, this delay led to women receiving homeless support being frequently excluded. Findings also revealed very little recognition for the women as mothers, questioning the identification of them by professionals as ‘single’.

Women were overlooked in service design and methods of delivery. Although practitioners recognised that women’s homeless experiences were different to those of the men they worked with, they did not offer alternatives. This leads` to women’s priorities being neglected and the potential for the revolving door of homelessness to continue. It shows that relationships with services and the professionals working in them are imperative to women accessing, using and successfully navigating support. Relationships are revealed to be central to women’s overall homeless experiences; negative relationships and relationship breakdown being key factors in becoming homeless.

The timing of the research allowed scrutiny on the changes to the welfare system and structural systems, emphasising that they not only exacerbate pressures and complexities of single homeless women’s experiences of services but also challenge the services ability to work with and include all single homeless women. Although a lack of concern was voiced by participants, linked to the ‘poverty of expectations’, the research found that reduced income negatively impacted upon them, maintaining their homelessness and their inability to exit dangerous situations to avoid homelessness. This impact was particularly recognised by the services working with women; yet lacking within policy and legislation. The thesis concludes that gender has important implications for professionals working with homeless women and for UK homeless policy.
Date of AwardApr 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Coventry University
SupervisorGeraldine Brady (Supervisor), Anne Coufopoulos (Supervisor) & Nigel Berkeley (Supervisor)

Cite this