by Lauren Palarino – Media and Events Coordinator
In the Denver Metro Area out of 3336 people who are homeless surveyed, 30.2% are women and nationally, single women are the fastest growing population of homeless in the United States and face unique challenges regarding healthcare, safety, and childcare. These needs are often unaddressed by shelters and instead can alienate women who are unable to find the help they need.
The reasons women are homeless are as diverse, but one in four women report domestic violence as the main factor in their current homeless situation resulting in health disparities and trauma left unaddressed. Lack of education prevents women from finding employment and gaining income and rising costs of living. Understanding women’s specific problems associated with being homeless can help us empathize with them and to try and help.
CW: Violence against women; sexual abuse and sexual assault
For homeless shelters, government funds are not allocated for period products. Shelters’ budgets do not always have the adequate resources needed and women are often without the necessary supplies for their periods. This results in monthly struggle for women who cannot afford the $5-10 for a box of tampons or pads for an entire week. They instead risk infection using cloths or toilet paper and basic hygiene is also something that is unattainable if they are on the street. Limited wardrobes also have an impact; the inability to change into something clean if there happened to be an accident is something homeless women think about.
Donating boxes of pads and tampons to shelters will help them during a time of vulnerability. Distributing Dignity’s whole purpose is to provide period products and undergarments to shelters all across the United States.
Motherhood and Homelessness
Limited contraception and education efforts are there for young women who live on the street and it results in pregnancy at much higher rates than their peers. And these women often lack the adequate prenatal coverage they need and can lead to a preterm delivery and complications for their infant. There is also a misconception about services available to them where their children could be taken away, so many women put off medical care because they do not want to lose their children. There are programs in place, such as the Homeless Prenatal Program, that want to provide care for pregnant women and childcare for homeless mothers and provide medicine.
For families, the majority are headed by mothers; specifically single mothers. As previously stated, one in four report domestic violence as a factor for being homeless and over 92% of homeless mothers have experienced severe physical and/or sexual abuse during their lifetime. Many women remain in abusive relationships for fear of becoming homeless with their children.
Personal safety becomes a primary concern for homeless women as well. Shelters are often male-dominated and women frequently report feeling unsafe. Women have reports of being sexually assaulted in shelters, avoiding public restrooms late at night, avoiding entire parts of cities due to there not being adequate safety, disguising features to look more like men than women which stems from fear of other homeless for fear of sexual assault. Without women only spaces, there seems to be a lack of safe spaces for women, there is a constant fear of being assaulted and abused. The best way to combat the fear of sexual assault are women-only shelters.
Currently, the City of Denver and Archdiocese Catholic Charities has opened a shelter for homeless women, responding to the “gap for single women” who experience the most trauma while living on the streets of Denver. There are also many women-only shelters such as The Delores Project, Sacred Heart House, Safehouse Denver for some examples. These allow for families to stay together as well which is an important factor in choosing shelters and the best way to help homeless women is to donate money, period products, clothing, children’s toys, and volunteering to help.