Women are homeless, too. This may seem obvious, but it bears stating. When we think of the homeless population, we often think of men. But according to the 2009 Point in Time Count (a full report on the 2010 count is not out yet, only a short factsheet), women made up 28 percent of single, homeless adults, that’s 670 homeless women statewide. However, women made up 90 percent of homeless adults in families, 381 statewide. In our area of Connecticut, the Norwich – New London area, these percentages actually increase: There were 44 single women, that is 33 percent of the single adult population, and 50 adult women in families, 96 percent of homeless adults in families—A staggering number! (Ibid, 179) This number is projected to go u: according to a short brief issued by the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness: “Young, single female women of color were overrepresented among families receiving shelter and assistance services.”
Another obvious statement is that women have different needs and problems than men. This is especially true for homeless women. According to a recent CNN interview, Roseanna Means, founder of Women of Means, a not for profit which serves the medical needs of homeless women in Boston area shelters, “there are so many things that women have to deal with more so than men do—reproductive years, and then mammograms, then menopause. A lot of women's health is preventive care, and if women lose out on those screening tests, their lives are in danger.”
These are two important points that, though seemingly obvious, have not been taken into account by policy makers. As noted in a previous post there is a serious disparity between services for homeless women veterans and men. Indeed, according to the 2009 CHALENG report: “Although only four percent of all homeless Veterans treated in VA’s specialized homeless services are women, this proportion will likely increase as currently 15 percent of all US troops are women.”
What are some problems homeless women face? There are many. A report issued by Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, The Women's and Children's Health Policy Center in 2000 sums up the health issues faced by women well: Chronic disease, infectious disease, STDs/HIV/AIDS, stress, smoking, nutrition, violence, substance abuse, and mental health/depression were all listed as problems women face as compared to men. First, it must be noted that homeless, drug-abusing women were 2.35 times likely to have HIV/AIDS than homeless, drug-abusing men. (Ibid. 4) Reasons for this are unclear, though drug use and sexual violence may play a role in the higher rate.
Nutrition is a big concern; a woman’s diet requires different vitamins than men. Ass of 2000 we note:
- “Currently and formerly homeless clients are more likely to report not getting enough to eat (28% and 25%) than among all U.S. households (4%) and among poor households (12%).
- “Contrary to their opinion, homeless women and their dependents were consuming less than 50% of the 1989 RDA for iron, magnesium, zinc, folic acid, and calcium.
- “Subjects of all ages were consuming higher than desirable quantities of fats.
- “The health risk factors of iron deficiency anemia, obesity, and hypercholesterolemia were prevalent” (Ibid, 4)
Further, violence played a big role in women homelessness. The same report stated that:
- “Poor women are at higher risk for violence than women overall; poverty increases stress and lowers the ability to cope with the environment and live safely.
- “In a study of 436 sheltered homeless and poor housed women: 84% of these women (average age = 27) had been severely assaulted at some point in their lives; 63% had been severely assaulted by parental caretakers while growing up; 40% had been sexually molested at least once before reaching adulthood; 60% had experienced severe physical attacks by a male intimate partner; and 33% had been assaulted by their current or most recent partner.
- “Studies of homeless women reveal high lifetime rates of childhood physical and sexual abuse and of assault by intimate male partners.
- “A study of fifty-three women homeless for at least three months in the past year demonstrated that this group is at a very high risk of battery and rape, with 91% exposed to battery and 56% exposed to rape.” (Ibid, 4)
In Connecticut itself, more than half of adults with children noted being in a relationship in which they had been ‘physically hurt or felt threatened,’ and 40 percent cited domestic violence as a factor in their homelessness. (“Talking Points on Homelessness in 2011”) This violence leads to serious mental health issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, major depression, substance abuse issues, and more. Unfortunately, homeless women were less likely to have been treated for these issues than housed women. (The Health of Homeless Women, 5)
Pregnancy and family planning is also a big concern among homeless women. First off, homeless women often lack access to contraceptives, have uncertain fertility, and, due to sexual violence, may have little or no say in when conception occurs. Further, with mental health issues and violence comes a desire for intimacy, which can lead to unplanned pregnancy. Added to this can be the poor nutrition and stress cited above, and low or poor quality prenatal care, all of which can lead to complications in pregnancy. (ibid, 3) In short, a woman may not have access to proper medical facilities, probably have nutritional problems, and may have no say in whether she becomes pregnant.
All of these problems lead to chronic health concerns. As noted above, many concerns faced by homeless women are preventable. (See above, note 3 above) Unfortunately, women often go untreated for these health concerns, or remain untested and wind up in the emergency room. In fact,
Seeking attention for health care becomes a low priority for women who do not know where they or their children will sleep that night, or where they will find their next meal. In one study, after controlling for potential confounding factors, homeless mothers had more frequent emergency visits in the past year and were significantly more likely to be hospitalized in the past year compared with housed mothers. (The Health of Homeless Women, 3)
Homeless or low-income women often lack financial stability as well. A brief issued by the National Center on Family Homelessness in 1998 noted that the mean annual income of homeless mothers was $ 7910, 67 percent of the poverty level for a family of three in 1998. Moreover, around half lived on $7000 a year. A reason for this is perhaps the source of income for many homeless or low income women:
75 percent of the working women in their study were employed in service and sales industries, compared with 61 percent of all women in the nation. Service occupations are mostly part-time and offer lower earnings, little advancement, limited benefits, and are of short duration (around 1.8 years) (The Health of Homeless Women, 2)
Women face serious problems, many of which are not experienced by men. There is some assistance around here. The Women’s Center of South Eastern Connecticut offers services geared toward single women and women with children. The Covenant Shelter offers a safe, albeit temporary, atmosphere for families to live in. And the newest program in the New London area is Homeless Women Deserve Treatment project, offered through Bethsaida Community inc in conjunction with other local agencies such as the New London Homeless Hospitality Center where I work and volunteer. However, these are not enough. As Amanda Brycki, outpatient coordinator for United Community and Family Services stated in an interview with The Day, “there are limited amounts of resources for these women." Homeless women need help too.
 “Talking Points on Homelessness in 2011,” Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness (February 2011). www.cceh.org/pdf/advocacy/tp_homelessness_2011.pdf, accessed April 18, 2011
 Danielle Berger, interviewer, “Homeless women face more obstacles,” CNN Heroes (January 24, 2011). www.cnn.com/2011/LIVING/01/24/cnnheroes.means.homeless.women/index.html, accessed April 18, 2011
 “The Sixteenth Annual Progress Report: Community Homeless Assessment, Local education and Networking Group (CHALENG) for Veterans (FY 2009)” Services for Homeless Assessment and Coordination (Mar. 17, 2010): 35: www1.va.gov/HOMELESS/docs/chaleng/chaleng_sixteenth_annual_report.pdf, Accessed November 11, 2010.
 Gillian Silver and Rea Pañares, The Health of Homeless Women: Information for State Maternal and Child Health Programs, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, The Women's and Children's Health Policy Center Research brief (2000): 4. http://www.jhsph.edu/bin/g/m/homeless.PDF, accessed April 18, 2011.
 “Research on Homelessness and Low-Income Housed Families” The National Center on Family Homelessness, brief (1998): 2. http://www.councilofcollaboratives.org/files/fact_research.pdf, accessed April 18, 2011.
 Clair Bessette, “Program for homeless women wins five-year federal grant,” The Day, New London, CT (February 23, 2011). http://www.theday.com/article/20110223/NWS01/302239947/1044 accessed April 18, 2011