Homelessness is a growing problem in the United States. It is estimated that 1.8% of the American population is currently homeless, and that 29% of all homeless persons are women.
In fact, the quickest growing segment of the homeless population is that of women and families (85% of homeless families are led by single mothers).
These women experience their own unique difficulties.
Women and Homelessness: The Challenges
Many homeless women were previously victims of domestic abuse, and they carry that trauma with them. The years of mistreatment take their toll on the health of these women. Add to that the trauma of losing their homes, and they are more likely to experience anxiety, depression, and for many, substance abuse.
In addition, if they were repeatedly abused before, then they will likely have a warped sense of what is acceptable and normal, thus making them more vulnerable to further abuse and violence. This can easily become compounded by the fact that being homeless makes their day-to-day routines and activities more easily observable by offenders.
Many homeless women report feeling unsafe in male-dominated shelters and have actually experienced gender-related trauma during their stays there. Oftentimes, these victims do not report the crimes against them due to fears of retaliation and feelings of shame. It comes as no surprise, then, that a homeless woman runs a much higher risk of being the victim of sexual abuse or violence than a homeless man does.
Another issue that many homeless women face is childcare, as 60% of all homeless women have children under the age of 18. This creates further hardship in taking on full-time jobs because they can’t afford the cost of childcare. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average annual cost of childcare ranges from $5,357 to $17,171. For most homeless women, that is simply not feasible, causing them to choose between working adequate hours and taking care of their own children.
Access to feminine hygiene items and healthcare is another obstacle that many homeless women face. In the United States, the annual cost for pads and tampons can reach $300 or more. Add to that the cost of birth control and pain medication, and it’s often a luxury they can’t afford. Many women in these situations become resourceful, using just toilet paper or ripped cloth in place of pads. This puts them at higher risk of infection.
For similar reasons, homeless women also experience a much higher rate of unexpected pregnancies. With that comes a much higher risk of complications. This includes a nearly 300% greater chance of preterm delivery, which poses greater danger and in effect higher costs for these infants.
Furthermore, the mental health issues many experience, as well as conditions resulting from malnutrition and stress, cause many homeless women to run the risk of developing other serious medical problems (while at the same time having little to no access to proper health care).
How Can I Help a Homeless Woman?
So, what can be done to help women in these circumstances?
There are plenty of options available, even at the individual level. It can be as simple as donating time, money, or helpful items. Call your local women’s shelter and ask what types of donations they can use. Volunteer some of your time in helping these shelters with their many responsibilities.
Or, if you prefer, consider donating money to help fund programs that provide support to women who are homeless.
Programs like Sheltering Grace and our #Be1of5000 provide resources to homeless women to support them with housing, job training, mental health treatment, and childcare.
By partnering with Sheltering Grace, and contributing just $10 a month, you can help these women get back on their feet.