Shaista Aziz, Oxford city councillor for Rose Hill and Iffley, is a member of Fabian Women’s Network’s women and homelessness campaign. She writes about the increasing issue of rough sleeping on our streets:

In the past 10 years of austerity, homelessness in the UK has increased by 169 per cent.

In less than half that time, the number of people experiencing homelessness in Oxford has increased by more than 400 per cent*.

The most visible aspect of the crisis in Oxford and the UK is street homelessness and rough sleeping.

It is impossible not to see the rising numbers of people sleeping in the doorways of world famous and historical buildings and around the colleges of Oxford University.

Visible rough sleeping has moved to other parts of the city and is no longer concentrated in the centre of Oxford.

It extends to car parks, fields and graveyards where people have pitched up tents to sleep in or hiding in bushes to avoid being found.

Increasingly, more and more women are sleeping rough on the streets of Oxford.

Women experiencing rough sleeping have doubled in the past five years, and here in Oxford the number of women rough sleeping has increased by 11 per cent.

There are many reasons why women end up rough sleeping but the overwhelming research shows a correlation between women experiencing physical and sexual violence, a break down of relationships, domestic violence and having nowhere to go.

From my own research over the past year of getting to know women experiencing rough sleeping in Oxford, I have met older women, younger women, disabled women, transgender women, women with mental health issues, pregnant women and women with health problems who are or have experienced rough sleeping.

One woman told me: “When I’m sat asking people for money I feel invisible and like a brick wall. I am not treated as a person as, as a human - I am seen as a junkie, a problem, a prostitute, an alcoholic, they don’t see you as a normal person who is down on their luck.

“Homelessness can happen to anyone.”

The women I have met almost always try and find discreet places to stay so they can try to stay safe.

One woman told me she has a full-time job but was evicted from her the house she was renting, through no fault of her own, and ended up sleeping on the streets.

In the morning she would go to the gym, shower, and get ready for work.

Another woman told me she was too ashamed to tell her family and friends she was sleeping on the streets and instead decided to break contact with them.

Research released by St Mungos in October stated: “Women who sleep on the street are subject to horrendous treatment, including sexual abuse, violence and stigmatisation – and often feel unsafe when accessing predominantly male homelessness services.”

This is exactly what I heard when I organised a round table for women to talk to each other and share their experiences.

What came through very clearly is the added vulnerability women face when they find themselves homeless.

One woman told me she gets asked for sex ‘every day’ from men who pass her, mostly from tourists.

Several said having their period was horrible, as they are unable to change their clothes, wash or buy sanitary products.

One said she even resorts to going into a hospital when she has her period, pretending to be a patient so she can shower at the women’s centre and use their products, otherwise she would have to steal them.

Women’s homelessness like all homelessness cannot be solved in a vacuum.

It requires bold and brave political leadership involving the overall of our broken housing system and for public services being fully funded.

Most of all, it requires the rest of society choosing to see people experiencing rough sleeping as humans, whose lives matter.

*Statistics taken from the No Local Connection Review Group report, produced for Oxford City Council last month.