Avoiding Pitfalls: Being Homeless and Female

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March 7, 2016 by poverty2professional

Last week’s post discussed age as a factor of my experience and how I was fortunate to have been in my teens while homeless. Being female, however, is another challenge.

Looking at raw numbers, the deck is clearly stacked against anyone experiencing homelessness and being a woman. Many women fall into homelessness because of threats to their safety and domestic violence in the first place. Over 92% of homeless mothers have experienced severe physical and/or sexual abuse during their lifetime and 63% report that this abuse was perpetrated by an intimate partner. Clearly, the decision was made that whatever was happening in a home with shelter and the benefits thereof was nowhere near better than taking chances on the street. 38% of all domestic abuse survivors become homeless at least once in their lives. 85% of domestic abuse survivors identified “safety for myself” as their primary reason for entering a shelter. At the Pound, one of the reasons its location was kept innocuous and often undisclosed was because of the residents who were women fleeing domestic violence. In other words, this was a precaution to make sure the women seeking refuge at the shelter were not pursued by their abusers.

While instances of abuse may occur prior to homelessness, being female and unsheltered does not mitigate additional risks when living on the street. At the Pound, I knew of one teen who had been sexually assaulted when she spent a night outside of the shelter at a friend’s house. To my knowledge, the staff did not offer additional support and left it on the family to resolve the matter on their own. The teen resident stopped showing up at the teen counseling sessions and became very withdrawn from the rest of our group. If the US is known for turning a blind eye toward sexual assault survivors such that it takes individual initiative to establish a code of rights for survivors, then how can there be an expectation to support the neediest and most neglected members of our society? There is so little support when someone is homeless, why isn’t there greater attention to serving the needs of women and especially female youths who fall into the highest population of sexual assault victims?

Finally, in considering families experiencing homelessness – little over a third of the homeless community is comprised of homeless families (i.e. at least one parent and at least one child under 18) – 84% of them are female-headed. Women also face additional obstacles that make keep them from successfully exiting homelessness or may later cause them to relapse into it. For example, 53% of homeless mothers do not have a high school diploma. This can impede both job opportunities as well as successfully supporting their children through further educational pursuits (i.e. navigating the college application process). On a broader range, low-income women are and so are more likely to experience postpartum depression and deliver premature infants, as many as one in five. Conversely, women who are low-income – in this study, being eligible for WIC benefits – run only a 7% chance of postpartum depression. The medical support and available prenatal care available to women is a clear disparity and leads only to perpetuating a cycle of poverty.


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