In 1994, the U.S. Conference of mayors reported a 21% increase in requests form families
for shelter. Researchers indicate that these families are usually headed by women and
that their children are often preschoolers. Projections are that in the future most of
the homeless in the United States will be single mother with children (Vladeck, 1990).
Currently, it is estimated that women make up 20%-25% of homeless adults. Single-parent
families, mostly headed by females, have grown to represent approximately 43% of the
total homeless population, and are considered the fastest growing segment (Shane, 1995).
Why they are homeless
For many women, homelessness follows years of violence and abuse. Women make up 25
percent of the homeless individuals seen by Health Care for Homeless projects nationally
(Brickner, Sharer, Conanan, & Scanlan, 1990)
Homeless women are often fleeing from family violence and other forms of victimization,
such as abuse by their family of origin (Montgomery, 1994).
Almost half of the homeless in previous studies reported experiences with abuse or other
violence (Clarke, Williams, Percy, & Kim, 1995) and the relationship between abuse and
homelessness was more profound for women (Lopez & Gary, 1995).
In the case of homelessness, the chain of causation for many women included the links of
violence, poverty, substance abuse, and mental illness (Freire, 1993).
Many homeless women also suffer from mental health problems. Researchers indicate that
these women have high rates of assault by male partners and have often experienced childhood
physical and sexual abuse. Such circumstances have a long-term effect on emotions,
self-perceptions, social functioning, and self-care (Browne, 1993).
A study of 330 homeless women in St. Louis, Missouri revealed that 34% met the criteria for
a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder; 74%, moreover, developed the syndrome before
becoming homeless (North & Smith, 1992).
Clearly, a battered woman's search for safety must be protected as a basic human right.
Social services for battered women are still not adequate, accessible, or appropriate
(Davis, Hagen, & Early, 1994).
For many women, homelessness follows years of violence and abuse which undermines their
self-esteem, contributes to the pain of powerlessness, and reinforces the social invisibility
of their lives.
"I used to wander and roam just like you oh my aching feet just the thought, where do you
find the strength and I wonder if you are living there in your spot to spot disconnected
dots for the same reason to be safe and free just like me, at least glance, I try to
discipline myself to be a passerby; to be the disciplined indifferent passerby takes so
much effort and I cry, but you cannot see me, for I am invisible to you" (Wolfe, 1997).
"Women only" shelter offered freedom from sexual harassment and victimization.
If you became homeless, would you have access to healthcare, including contraception and
prenatal care? A new study had documented that over half of teenagers and young women who
are homeless become pregnant (Off Our Backs, 1998).
Is there Hope and How to Help
One of the provisions of The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (signed by President Clinton
into law on September 13, 1994) is interstate enforcement of protection orders and to provide
grants for battered women's shelters.
- ---. (1998). Off Our Backs 28(6), Off Our Backs, Inc., p. 5.
- Bassuk, E.L. (1993). Social and economic hardships of homeless and other poor women.
American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 63, 340-347.
- Brickman, P, Scharer, L., Conanan, B. (1990). Under the safety net, the health and
social welfare of homeless in the United States. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.
- Clarke, Pamela N., Pendry, Nancy Chung, Kim, Yeoun Soo (1997). Western Journal of
Nursing Research 19(4), p 490-511.
- Freire, P. (1993). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: The Continuum Publishing
- Mongomery, C. (1994). Swimming upstream: The strengths of women who survive
homelessness. Advances in Nursing Science 16(3), 34-35.
- Shane, Patricia A. (1995). Conference: School for the Study of Social Problem.
- Vladek, B.C. (1990). Health care and the homeless: A political parable for our time.
Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law, 15, 305-317.
- Wolf, Karen, Foldfader, Rebecca, & Lehan, Catherine (1997). N & HC: Perspectives on
Community 18(2), p 74-79.
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