When we think of homelessness, unpleasant conditions, like trash everywhere, clothes hanging on fences and people sleeping on concrete, come to mind. What we don’t consider are the burdens unseen: the trauma that leads to people’s homelessness and the distress they experience while on the streets. For many, homelessness is a matter of survival — especially for women. Homeless women have and continue to face some of the most extreme circumstances, such as domestic violence and assault, lack of access to mental health resources and limited ability to address personal hygiene.
The problem is acute in communities of color. In Los Angeles County alone, the Latino homeless population increased 63 percent between 2016 and 2017. Even more, while African Americans account for nine percent of the county’s population, they make up 39 percent of its homeless population — a gross variance.
Facing gender and racial disparities, along with destitution, the experience for homeless women of color is particularly grave. Here, some data on our displaced sisters in LA County and how you can help.
1. Homeless women of color are often domestic violence and assault survivors.
Unfortunately, domestic violence occurs more frequently in communities with women of color than any other demographic. For example, the Southern California Criminal Defense found that non-white women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence as opposed to white women. On the streets, some women resort to sex work to receive the necessary basics, such as temporary housing, food or clothing, where they risk more violence. To cope with the trauma, many women resort to harmful and addictive drugs, like opioids and heroin.
2. Homeless women lack access to mental health services.
Being homeless places stress on an individual’s mental health, but few have access to this type of health care. It is has been reported by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that 39 percent of the nation’s chronic homeless population resides in California. There are mental health shelters that can help stabilize people with mental and/or substance abuses. But, as homelessness increases, mental health shelters are unable to meet the demand.
3. Access to clean clothes and personal hygiene products can improve women’s experiences and opportunities.
Homeless women often need toiletries, clothing and feminine hygiene products. Think about what it would take for them to prepare for a job interview, for example, if they’re not even able to afford the attire needed for the meeting or have access to a shower. Additionally, homeless women often lack access to menstrual products. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill in 2016 that would have exempted menstrual hygiene products from sales tax, saying it would cost the state too much money. This could have helped homeless women obtain these products. Increasing access to feminine hygiene products and clothing can make women feel more confident in taking the necessary steps to combat homelessness.
4. There is still hope. There has always been hope. And you can make change happen.
When it comes to taking care of our homeless women, we don’t need to be an elected official or in a position of power to make a difference (but it helps!). Even the smallest things can make a big impact. Here’s what you can do:
1. Donate. Toiletries, clothing and personal hygiene products can give homeless women the necessary health and confidence to make a difference in their everyday lives. Simply the Basics and People Assisting the Homeless (PATH) accept donations, and so do your local homeless and domestic violence shelters.
2. Promote Medi-Cal Eligibility. Many homeless people, unbeknown to them, do qualify for Medi-Cal. For those who don’t, the National Health Care for the Homeless Council provides assistance for homeless folks to access health-related resources and care.
3. Advocate for Research. Academic institutions and research centers should conduct more research on the experiences of homeless women of color. If you are a student, you can advocate for research by being more involved in academic organizations and speaking with professors. Additionally, we need to learn more about barriers that homeless non-English speakers, immigrants and undocumented individuals face. With this research, we can make assistance for homeless women more inclusive.
With big or small actions, we can always make a positive difference!