Women and children represent the fastest growing groups of homeless population in the United States of America. 90% of the homeless families are led by a young, single mother without any financial or emotional support. Women experience homelessness at the same rate as men but as we do not see them as often on the streets as men which makes them invisible for the society. It has been studied that domestic violence is the largest contributing factor for growing population of women who are homeless.
DEFINITION OF WOMEN HOMELESSNESS
A woman is defined as a homeless if she spent past 30 nights or more in a homeless shelter, church, chapel, hotel paid by a voucher, indoor public space, rehab, abandoned building, vehicle, streets, or other outdoor places.
STATISTICS AND DEMOGRAPHICS
Homelessness continues to be a significant problem in the United States of America. The odds of an individual in the United States becoming homeless each year are 1 in 194. It is researched that around 84% of homeless families are led by women, 53% of them are young single mothers without a high school diploma.
UNIQUE CHALLENGES FACED BY WOMEN EXPERIENCING HOMELESSNESS
Homeless women face different challenges as compared to homeless men. Women are predominantly vulnerable to victimization, sexual assault, and physical violence. In one of the studies, it was found that 92 % of homeless women faced severe physical and sexual violence on the streets. As a result, many women are forced to trade themselves for a safe place to sleep. Women go through unbearable physical and emotional traumas during the homelessness phase.
Here are the unique challenges faced by women:
Women face sexual assault, physical and domestic violence as homeless. They are often forced to take up prostitution or they end up trading themselves to multiple men for a safe place to spend the night. Women have reported sexual assault in showers and public restrooms.
Deteriorating health during reproductive years and Menopause
Homeless women lack preventive care such as prenatal, mammograms and other tests as compared to non-homeless women. The rate of unintended pregnancies is higher in homeless women who have no access to contraceptives through medical insurance or financial assistance. As a result, there is a much higher rate of abortions, abnormalities and adverse birth outcomes as compared to other women.
Access to menstrual products is limited
For homeless women, menstrual cycles are a monthly challenge to survival. Most of the shelters do not provide menstrual products such as pads or tampons to the homeless women. A box of pad can cost anywhere around $ 5 to $ 10 plus taxes needed for almost a week can be an expensive affair. Most of the women would rather use ripped pieces of clothes or toilet paper instead of sanitary napkins which leads to infection.
Lack of Maternal health care plans
Most of the unintended pregnancies happen inside homeless shelters where a lot of women are forced to have sexual intercourse. The path of motherhood is an expensive affair in United States of America, it consists of doctor’s appointments, medications, tests, and highly priced infant products. Most women prevent services for expectant homeless mothers as they fear losing their infant to child protection agencies.
Lack of Safety and Security
Women and children fleeing domestic violence from an abusive partner often face disappointment as homeless. The streets make women even more vulnerable for abuse and violence from strangers. Homeless women are an easy prey as half of them would never report rape and sexual abuse owning to their own insecurities.
Gender inequality in jobs
We cannot deny the fact that gender disparity and sexism does exists in our nation. Additionally, more than half of the homeless women do not have a high school degree which makes them less likely to attain a stable source of income.
About 1 in 4 homeless people face extreme mental issues which goes untreated. In the U.S, 47% of homeless women meet the criteria for a major depressive disorder alone, which is twice the rate of women in the general population.
Homeless women are particularly vulnerable to multiple forms of victimization. They suffer before, during and after the homelessness in multiple settings at the hands of multiple penetrators. The shelters for women are unsafe and they have reported extreme physical and mental violence inside the safe homes.
REASONS FOR GROWING NUMBER OF WOMEN FACING HOMELESSNESS
Women and children represent the fastest growing groups of homeless population in the United States of America. 90 % of the homeless families are led by a young, single mother without any financial or emotional support.
Here are the most dominant reasons for a sudden rise in women homelessness:
Disparity between rent and income
The inflated cost of living with a single income and growing children often becomes a nightmare for single mothers. There is a huge gap between the expenses and income in an average American household which is a leading cause of women homelessness.
Lack of affordable housing
In the United States of America, there is a drastic shortage of affordable rental units for the poor people. Around 30-50 % of the income of the poor goes towards the rent which makes people immune to homelessness.
This is the largest contributing factor of women homelessness. Most of the women face physical and sexual abuse from their partners which leaves them with no other choice but to leave their home. Young mothers and non-working mothers face extreme financial issues in a household where a man is the only source of income.
Women in their 50’s expect financial and emotional stability in professional and personal lives. However, many women, especially single mothers never are at the receiving ends. Older women are at a risk of homelessness as they are struggling to make ends meet.
One in eight women lives in poverty in the United States and every 5th child grows up poor. It is one of the largest factors for an increasing number of women becoming homeless as the basic salary is barely enough to meet the ends.
Young girls are more prone to unplanned pregnancies who face rejection from the partner, family, and friends with no stable source of income or education to find a job. Children are our future, but it is close to impossible to raise a child as a single mother.
PREVENTING WOMEN HOMELESSNESS
Homelessness is a complex issue and every year there is an evolution of new causes of homelessness. Older, single women are increasingly vulnerable to housing stress, homelessness, and insecurity. America needs to prevent and end homelessness for a bright future by increasing affordable accommodation and providing enough income.
Here are the ways we can prevent Women homelessness:
Access to affordable housing is a crucial step in preventing homelessness for both men and women. Most of the people pay around 30-50% of their incomes in rent which leaves them striving to meet the ends. An effective and equitable housing can deliver multiple benefits to the economy. Women with a safe place to live are less prone to medical conditions such as depression, malnutrition, abnormal deliveries, and other reproductive disorders.
Older women are more likely to be excluded from the society due to limited financial resources. We must ensure economic security in retirement for older women for them to maintain social connectedness. There must be new ways to increase community involvement and support amongst the older women.
Enhancing access to public system, services, and appropriate supports
It is often difficult for women and children to gain access to benefits, services and supports for their mental and physical health. By increasing the public services and supports, we can prevent homelessness to a great extent.
Early Intervention Strategy
Another way to prevent homeless is by bringing new strategies and services for early intervention. Individuals and families at an eminent risk of homelessness should be provided social and emotional support. There should be community awareness regarding growing risks of homelessness and measures to prevent it.
Sometimes giving a smile to a homeless woman can make her day. Most of us are judgmental and non-sympathetic when we see a woman begging on the streets. Homeless people are the ones who have been deprived of love and care for an extended period. They have lost their physical and emotional homes. A word of encouragement, monetary help, providing daily bathroom supplies or food can go a long way in empowering women to shackle the vicious circle of homelessness.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP HOMELESS WOMEN?
All women have struggles but homeless women face uniquely traumatic events in their lives. Mostly, women who end up being homeless were fleeing from some abusive partners, coping with an unplanned pregnancy, or escaping sexual abuse from a family member. Rarely, do women become homeless because of substance addiction.
As the challenges are unique, there are different ways we can help homeless women:
Donate menstrual health products
There is a lack of availability of menstrual health products in most of homeless shelters. Surviving the expenses of menstrual cycle every month can be extremely difficult for most of the women. Most of the women would rather use ripped pieces of clothes or toilet paper instead of sanitary napkins which leads to infection.
Volunteer time, money, or resources to homeless shelters
If there is any way you can provide your time, money, or resources to homeless shelters, you would be doing a wonderful job in eradicating homelessness. The organizations working for homeless are always looking for help from the community as selfless services add more value to a cause.
Donate to job training programs for women
Homeless have access to food and shelter in shelter homes. We should provide them the ability to rise above devastating elements and achieve job readiness and self-sustainability. You can start by donating professional attires, providing free seminars and mock interview or simply by donating to the job training programs especially designed for homeless women.
Acknowledge and Engage
Women are more sensitive than men. Homelessness can be extremely isolating and depressing for women. We should acknowledge women on the streets, share a smile, listen to their stories, and start a conversation.
Sponsor the homeless children for education
Homeless women with families face difficulties in raising their children without any source of steady income. If we can sponsor their children for education, it would change their lives. If not, we can offer advice regarding scholarships and free tutoring classes to them.