Homelessness is difficult for everyone – all genders, all ages, all backgrounds. However, for homeless women across the nation, the gender-based difficulties they endure are exceptionally challenging. While you may not think of women as a measurable portion of the homeless population, they are. During San Diego’s 2018 Point-in-Time Count census conducted by the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, almost a third of respondents self-identified as “female.” It’s no doubt that the average American woman faces enough disparity – from pay inequality to sexism to domestic violence. Unsheltered women face all of this and more.
On International Women’s Day, as we recognize the achievements of our mothers, sisters, daughters, grandmothers, aunts, and friends, it’s important to honor the homeless women in our communities. Let’s look at 5 challenges that affect homeless women and learn about the tangible ways we can help.
Childcare for Homeless Women and Children
Did you know that the national average cost of childcare in California is around $1,000 per month? For one child. This staggering figure leads many families to have family or friends to watch their children while they work. But what if you don’t have family in the area or at all? Imagine being unsheltered with young children, trying to find or maintain a job. It’s a financial obligation that can’t be met thereby forcing women out of the workforce and many times keeping them in the cycle of chronic homelessness.
Pregnant and Homeless
Pregnancy can be challenging for any woman. Coordinating well-visits, maintaining proper nutrition for both mom and baby, setting a birth plan, and access to familial support are just a few of the hurdles that face all women. Facilities geared towards women in general, let alone catering to pregnant women, are scarce. Many homeless women find themselves unintentionally pregnant because of lack of access to birth control.
Furthermore, they delay seeing a health practitioner out of fear child welfare services may become involved. As with many resources, information about pre- and post-natal services for homeless women is hard to find and even harder to access relative to location and transportation.
You can help. Advocate for pregnant women and support programs like the prenatal services, birth control access, and education programs provided at Family Health Services San Diego.
Homeless Women’s Violent Pasts
Every person’s story is unique. That’s true of every homeless person, too. However, there is one unifying bond for homeless women – their violent present (see above) started as a violent past. 1 in 4 women states that domestic abuse is the immediate cause of their homelessness. With many victims of domestic abuse experiencing financial control by their spouses, they typically have little money to leave their abuser. Women may fear their abusers will find them at friend’s or family’s houses and even at local women’s shelters. Some women will stay in terribly violent relationships rather than face homelessness, mainly when children are involved.
You can help. Get involved with domestic violence hotlines, connecting victims of abuse with essential services. Your voice is a vital support to those experiencing domestic abuse. Learn how to support a friend or family member that is in an abusive relationship.
Sexual Assault and Homeless Women
Unsheltered women endure sexual assault at an alarming rate. The stories from the streets are heart-wrenching. Women feel unsafe on the street and may also feel vulnerable in male-dominated shelters. Unaccompanied women don’t use services available to them out of fear of harassment, abuse, and assault. Often the very conditions that forced them into homelessness – drug addiction, mental illness – make women more susceptible to victimization on the streets. Both men and women may view sex as currency on the streets. Some women are forced to “trade” food or a bed for sex, further perpetuating the cycle of trauma.
You can help. Be a voice for the thousands of women living unsheltered. Support allies for homeless women including women-only shelters or shelters that provide women-specific services.
Access to Hygiene Products for Homeless Women
Every woman of menstruating age knows the inconvenience of dealing with their monthly cycle. For women without shelter, it’s more than just an “inconvenience.” Cleanliness is only a small part of the additional challenge of having their period.
Feminine hygiene products are expensive. Deciding between a $10 box of tampons and a decent meal is real choice homeless women have to make every month. As shelters don’t always make these products available, women are forced to use alternative materials – socks, pieces of fabric, paper towels. And others don’t have money to purchase or access to necessary medication, like Tylenol, to deal with the side effects of menstruation.
You can help. Give dignity to women who so desperately deserve it by donating feminine hygiene products. The Lucky Duck Foundation includes feminine hygiene products in their Winter Care Kits. Consider donating to support this campaign and your donation will be used to pack and distribute a backsack containing personal care products, warm clothes, and more.
All Women are Deserving
All women deserve a chance to live honorably and with dignity. The Lucky Duck Foundation is committed to immediately alleviating the suffering of our homeless neighbors. Learn more about our dignity-lifting programs. If you want to make the lives of homeless women better, share your luck and this post.
All images courtesy of Peggy Peattie.