Is it a sausage party on the cold streets?
July 7, 2006 10:09 AM   Subscribe

Why do you see more male homeless than female homeless?

A friend of mine pondered this aloud to me, and not having an immediate response, I thought I'd offer it to the hive: Why is the ratio of male to female homeless so high? Is it? Or is that just the way it seems? If it just seems that way, why?

I thought that maybe females tend to cluster together so as to protect each other while men tend to stay away from each other but that seemed overly simplistic. Are there environmental factors (women have children and are more willing to go on state support, men have pride and won't?), biological (mental illness is more common in men?), sociological (landlords evict men with less thought than women)...I'm just throwing up absurd guesses here.

I don't want to think too much about it because I could probably find a satisfactory (and possibly false) answer, but I'd like to hear all of your thoughts on the matter.
posted by Brainy to Society & Culture (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Could drug addiction play a part? Maybe men are more susceptible to addiction than women are (I'm not sure).
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:17 AM on July 7, 2006

Women are more likely to qualify for welfare, because they're more likely to have responsibility for children. (I would guess they're also more likely seek out that help, because they need to provide for their kids.)

Women are less likely to survive on the streets, given the prevalence of violence and rape, and are therefore more likely to do something to avoid it.

I would guess that women totally down on their luck could also more easily find "housing" (of some sort) by becoming prostitutes, an option not available to most men.

Having kids is one of the biggest risk factors for women (but not men) to fall into poverty. A lot of our welfare system is designed to keep women with kids off the streets, because it's such a huge risk. I don't think men have quite the same state support network in place.
posted by occhiblu at 10:18 AM on July 7, 2006

Partly I think it just seems that way. There are plenty of homeless women. But you may not seem them as much because I think women have more options to get off the street with programs, shelters, and group homes specifically catered to helping women.
posted by Robot Johnny at 10:18 AM on July 7, 2006

Women can still marry and be supported by a husband -- the flipside of that doesn't happen too often, both for pride and societal reasons.
posted by Big Fat Tycoon at 10:18 AM on July 7, 2006

It's definitely true, btw--the Department of Housing and Urband Development says 77% of the single homeless are male.

As far as why, in this article, a woman who has been homeless makes the claim that "as a woman on the streets, guys will constantly be trying to pick you up, you can't avoid it."
posted by Espy Gillespie at 10:20 AM on July 7, 2006

And I think there is a gender gap; it's not just an illusion:

2001 Homeless Count Report

On the streets of San Francisco, our volunteers counted 1,753 homeless men, 460 homeless women, 22 transgender people and 921 genders unknown during this Fall's Homeless Count, for a total of 3,156 compared to a total of 2,033 in October 2000 an increase of 55%.

Homeless men and women: commonalities and a service gender gap.
Gender differences among homeless persons on a host of variables were examined. A stratified random sample of 248 homeless persons staying in shelters in St. Louis provided data for the study. More similarities than differences between men and women were found. However, men tended to be homeless for longer periods and were more likely than women to sleep on the streets. Men were also more likely than women to have a drinking problem and to have been convicted of a crime. Men were less likely than women to ever have been married and to be caring for dependent children. The most striking gender differences occurred on service utilization variables; women were much more likely than men to have received social services.

Special Populations of Homeless Americans

Since the mid-1980's, many more women have become homeless with the ratio of men to women approaching 3:2. Women now comprise more than one-fifth of the overall homeless population (Burt & Cohen, 1989, Rossi, 1990; US Conference of Mayors, 1991). The rapidly growing numbers of homeless mothers (i.e., families with children in tow) and homeless women alone (“singles”) account for these numbers. Although the majority of “single” women have children, they reside in shelters without them. In contrast only an estimated 40 percent of single men are fathers who are less likely to have been married and are not active caretakers...
posted by occhiblu at 10:25 AM on July 7, 2006

Actually, the second link has an interesting point: Our justice system tends to incarcerate men a lot more than women, which I imagine would be a risk factor for later homelessness. Ditto military service, if even a small percentage of the homeless guys claiming to be vets are to be believed. (I was walking with my father in SF last year and we passed an obviously mentally disturbed guy in an army jacket. My father said, "We really screwed up a lot of men in Vietnam." Those social after-effects of war hadn't been something I had considered prior to that.)
posted by occhiblu at 10:28 AM on July 7, 2006

I would not be surprised if potentially homeless women are more likely to be supported by friends and family members. Anecdotally, I know that to be true.
posted by deadfather at 10:30 AM on July 7, 2006

The New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans has a page on their site which goes into the military angle a bit more.

A little math: assume 1000 homeless people. We know 77% are male (770), and 33% of the men are vets (254). Subtract them off and redo the percentages: 516 men and 230 women, out of 746 total homeless. The %s change to 69% men and 31% women. I guess folks can work from there for the other reasons for the disparity.
posted by jwells at 10:50 AM on July 7, 2006

In my experience working with homeless populations women have more options (although not all of them are particularly good options) for finding housing. Many many women who would otherwise be homeless trade sex for housing.
posted by OmieWise at 10:55 AM on July 7, 2006

On average, men take more risks than women. This means they attain higher highs and suffer lower lows.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 11:01 AM on July 7, 2006

Maybe men are more susceptible to addiction than women are (I'm not sure).

I've heard exactly the opposite, for which there is seemingly some "authoritative" validation -- oddly enough, a quick googling shows that CASAColumbia (or whatever they're called) is the main group pushing this angle, so maybe it's just this guy's pet theory. (he is selling a book)

posted by fishfucker at 11:30 AM on July 7, 2006

A significant percentage of the homeless in America suffer from schizophrenia, and this disease disproportionately affects men. Moreover, men evidence schizophrenia earlier in life than women typically do, and have a greater range of symptoms, which often contribute to the condition being missed, or mis-diagnosed at first contact with the legal or public health systems. So, young men are much more likely to have functional impairments in planning, motivation, organization and other mental functions that prevent them from successfully finding stable life situations.

Many of these men go on to adopt socially maladaptive behaviors, in an attempt to handle their problem. They begin self-medicating with alcohol and drugs more frequently and at an earlier age than women, but have greater physical tolerance for alcohol or other drugs than women do, meaning they live longer on the street while engaging in drug behaviors. They are more successful at some kinds of petty crime (drugs, theft, burglary, assault) than are women, and more likely to adopt these crimes as methods of financing drug seeking behavior.

Society is also less troubled by, and more fearful of images of homeless men, than it is of homeless women and children. Guys camping under bridges in a city winter elicit little public response [PDF file linked], so long as well known or prominent citizens aren't inconvienced, and every city has some kind of "tramp jungle" somewhere.

Life on the street is certianly no "sausage party." There are complex, intractable reasons why the homeless population is predominantly male, but using derisive terms to describe the situation doesn't help anyone to understand.
posted by paulsc at 11:34 AM on July 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

in my experience at an emergency shelter, the population was only slightly skewed towards men. however, most of the homeless women we helped had children in tow, so they wouldn't have been considered 'single.'
posted by lester at 11:44 AM on July 7, 2006

Sort of what Paul said, the incidence of things like anti-social behavior disorder, schizophrenia and a host of other psychological disorders are more frequently found in men. I am under the impression (mistakenly?) that many of the homeless suffer from some sort of mental disease, so perhaps this would explain why there are more homeless men that women?
posted by rosswald at 11:52 AM on July 7, 2006

I second pretty much what paulsc said about higher rates of mental illness in men.

And I don't think you are mistaken, rosswald, a lot of mental health hospitals were shut down which lead to more mentally ill people becoming homeless and also incarcerated.
posted by unsigned at 12:33 PM on July 7, 2006

Wow, these are some great responses. Thanks everybody.

Paul, I assure you, there was no intent to scoff at the situation or the population at all. Since the title of the thread is only viewed in the tab heading and browser titlebar, I've always considered it a place to put an off-the-cuff summary.

I wanted it to be interesting so I thought about a humorous situation in which one homeless man might mention to another about how there are never any women around. i.e. a "sausage party" if you are unfamiliar with the term.

I rushed through the entire question because i have a deadline (also my reason for limited participation) so I apologize if I offended anybody.
posted by Brainy at 1:37 PM on July 7, 2006

On re-reading you are definitely familiar with the term. Sorry.
posted by Brainy at 1:39 PM on July 7, 2006

Also a very social reason, women are must more able to reach out and recieve help from others, boyfriends, fathers, mothers, etc etc.... Its a fact of this country that more men support women then vice versa and I have no doubt that plays a signifcant role in why you see more homeless men.
posted by crewshell at 1:56 PM on July 7, 2006

I was wondering this recently too, and I talked to a few friends of mine who work in shelters and similar organizations, and they said that a lot of women end up in prostitution. Also, since it is much less safe for women on the streets, the situation at home has to get really bad for the streets to look like a better option. So, when they have women in the shelters, a lot of them have really scary stories since they didn't leave until there really was no other option.

Men might be more willing to strike out on their own rather than be dependent on someone else. Women may be more willing to be dependent on someone abusive than to risk life on the streets.
posted by heatherann at 3:27 PM on July 7, 2006

I worked at a housing authority that had homelessness as a preference for housing, and I would guess that women made up more than half of the adult homeless population applying for our program in the city where I worked. They considered a person 'homeless' if they resided in a shelter, lived in a transitional housing situation, or a motel. The majority of the women applying for assistance were homeless single parents with children, residing in family shelters, domestic violence shelters and motels. While the percentage of single homeless men was higher than the percentage of single homeless women (I'd guess 65 to 35), if you include families in the equation, I'd estimate that the percentages were about 35% adult men to 65% adult women.

These are my estimates and they do not take into account homeless people who do not apply for public assistance who need and are lacking the support to actually apply (due to language barriers, poor marketing, etc.) or those who are discouraged because they expect to be denied assistance based on their criminal history or lack of valid INS documentation.

My estimates also do not account for the homeless population differences between different cities. For example, city with a high cost of living is likely to have a larger proportion of homeless families than a city with a low cost of living. Also, a refugee resettlement city will have a larger percentage of families. And I'd imagine that a place like Grand Forks, North Dakota would have a larger percentage of homeless people who are single and on a fixed income (elderly or disabled) than Chicago, due to the lower cost of living for families. Aside from economic factors, there are cultural differences that may affect the homeless populations from one area to the next. And the political climate/services that are available in the state or city may affect the population receiving assistance and the counting of the population needing assistance.

If you'd like to get a better idea of the breakdown of homeless populations in various cities, there are plenty online. Here's one on New York's. I believe you'll find that most major city governments and most states will do their own annual study of housing needs/versus affordable housing opportunities available in their city/state.

There are also plenty of organizations with websites that provide statistics, studies and information about specific homeless populations. If you want suggestions about where to get more info my email's in my profile.
posted by sophie at 6:01 PM on July 7, 2006

There may also be a tendency for men to become homeless after a divorce. It's common for the marital home to stay with the ex wife if there are children involved. I have known a few people who became homeless that way.
posted by fingerbang at 8:58 PM on July 7, 2006

It will sound like a smart-ass crack, as we're exhorted not to make, but it's really not: I suspect some percentage of it come from the fact that men are more likely to storm out of the house pissed without their keys.
posted by baylink at 8:27 PM on July 10, 2006

« Older Static, argh!   |   I am looking for a quote about a horrific human... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.