Why This Matters
Women experiencing homelessness as individuals—those who are not accompanied by or seeking services with a partner, children, or other dependents—are a growing population in Los Angeles County and nationally. In Los Angeles County, these women make up 68 percent of all women experiencing homelessness and 20 percent of all individuals experiencing homelessness. Prior research has highlighted the challenges and negative outcomes that women experiencing homelessness face. In recognition of the growing population of women experiencing homelessness and their needs, the City and County of Los Angeles passed resolutions naming women a unique subpopulation of people experiencing homelessness, and the County Homelessness Initiative, in partnership with the Downtown Women’s Center (DWC), engaged the Urban Institute and the Hub for Urban Initiatives to conduct the first countywide women’s needs assessment to answer key questions around demographics, experiences, and needs and preferences related to housing, shelter, and services for women experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles County.
- Most women experienced multiple episodes of homelessness, with more than half reporting at least one prior episode of homelessness before their current episode.
- More than 80 percent of women have experienced lifetime lengths of homelessness over a year, with more than half of those individuals experiencing lifetime homelessness for longer than five years.
- More than 90 percent of women have experienced some form of victimization in their lifetime.
- The most frequently reported barriers to permanent housing were lack of housing that women could afford and long waiting lists to access vouchers or public housing.
- Women identified affordability, safety, and privacy as their highest priorities in permanent housing
- Women reported significant barriers to accessing or using shelters, including feeling unsafe, lack of available spots in shelter, and lack of shelters that meet their needs and preferences.
- More than 40 percent of women had a preference for women-only shelters and housing services.
- Survey findings, listening sessions, and data walks with community stakeholders revealed key areas for policy and programmatic work to improve outcomes for women experiencing homelessness.
How We Did It
The Los Angeles County Women’s Needs Assessment was designed as a sequential exploratory mixed-methods, community-engaged research project. In spring 2022, DWC convened Steering and Advisory Committees to help guide the project from March 2022 to June 2023. Throughout the spring of 2022, the research team also held listening sessions with nearly 100 women experiencing homelessness in all eight Service Planning Areas (SPAs) in Los Angeles. These listening sessions, along with input from the Steering and Advisory Committees, guided the research team’s revisions to the survey instrument used in prior women’s needs assessments.
In fall 2022, volunteers administered the survey instrument in all eight SPAs. Surveys were administered in English and Spanish at recruited service provider sites. In spring 2023, both during and after analysis of the survey data, the research team conducted data walks with the Steering and Advisory Committees and several other stakeholder groups to help interpret and contextualize findings from the survey analysis.