Are Homeless Women Without Children In The U.S. Last To Get Assistance?
With a current population of 812,826 people, the west coast U.S. City of San Francisco, California is a beautiful seaside region, but the city is plagued with a grinding problem that also reaches across the country into every urban area – the problem of homelessness.
With a current median income of $$71,975 USD San Francisco currently has 15,050 homeless people counted in the recent “State of Homelessness in America 2012” report by the National Alliance to End Homelessness with the Homelessness Research Institute. But is this the real number? And how many out of the number are women, especially single women?
Celia sits at the corner of San Francisco’s BART – Bay Area Rapid Transit train station at the intersection of 16th and Mission Street. Perching on top of two frayed black trash bags, her petite hands are soiled with heavy traces of black dirt under the tips of her fingernails.
Celia is 37 years old and moved to San Francisco from small town outside of Los Angeles three years ago to live with a construction day laborer she met. She was unaware of his drinking problem and his frequent use of methamphetamines. It was not long before Celia was also addicted to methamphetamine medications as her addiction spiraled out of control. She fled their studio rental unit one day when the man who she had hoped to trust threatened her nearly two years ago.
Since that time Celia has spent the last two years in and out of sobriety bouncing from shelter to shelter in San Francisco. Currently she is living in San Francisco’s mission district, wherever she can “find a decent place to sleep,” she says
One of the statistics for the homeless, Celia is not alone. The total 2011 population count for homeless persons inside the United States is 636,017. Celia is only one of many trying to survive on the streets, or anywhere else she can find to rest, eat and sleep safely. But she is also, surprisingly, part of a decreasing population.
According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in January 2009, there were 643,067 sheltered and un-sheltered homeless persons living inside the United States nationwide. An estimated 1.56 million people also used an emergency shelter or a transitional housing program during the 12-month period between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009 said the department study. This number suggested that roughly 1 in every 200 persons in the US used a shelter for the homeless at some point in that period.
“This is everything I own,” mumbles Celia motioning to her black trash bags in an interview with WNN – Women News Network. “I slept down the street last night. I try to find lighted areas because I feel safer there,” she continues as she takes a drag off of her cigarette and crushes it into the pavement next to a piece of discarded chewing gum. “I’m from down south,” she says. “I came up here a few years ago and moved in with a man. He hit me all the time. He drank. I was miserable. I started using drugs because I felt alone and two years later I wound up here,” added Celia.
Women and homelessness in the United States: A broad view
Since the world economic downturn in 2008, drastic changes in the United States homeless population have been observed, and the effect on women has been profound. Currently the fastest-growing group of homeless in the United States is composed of single women, with two or three children. Many usually claim divorce and/or domestic violence as the leading cause for their homelessness.
Other main causes of homelessness among women are poverty, decline in the state of their government assistance and/or lack of affordable housing.
“When he would drink, it was a living nightmare. He would disappear for days and then return to our place angry and violent,” outlined Celia. “When we began the relationship I was unaware of his drinking problem. His abuse got so bad I chose this [homeless] life as an alternative. I actually feel safer living on the streets than with him,” she added.
A 2008 survey for The Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness found that half of all homeless women and children have experienced physical violence. Along with this, 92 percent of homeless mothers have been victims of physical or sexual assault. These discoveries include a surprising addition, The National Alliance to End Homelessness reports that 41 percent of the entire U.S. homeless population is comprised of families.
“Homeless families can be found in virtually every American city, living in cars, abandoned buildings, and homeless shelters, among other places,” says a2008 report published by the University of Georgia College of Family and Consumer Sciences. “…there is substantial concern that rising housing prices and limited wage growth among less-skilled workers has worsened the problem,” continued the report.
“When the significant other of a single mother is not in the picture, particularly in San Francisco, it becomes extremely difficult to maintain housing for oneself and their children,” said San Francisco based Anna Hurtado, Director of Family Services at Raphael House to WNN.
The Office of the Controller of the City of San Francisco is currently showing that the number of homeless in the region has dropped from 4,841 counted in 2000 to 4,691 counted in 2011. But this count may not be correct. Many advocates know that accurate counts for homeless people is very difficult due to their transitional ‘on-the-move’ lives.
According to the most recent 2011 city audit for the homeless in San Francisco, the numbers include:
- 1,595 homeless units in fiscal year 2003-04
- 3,741 homeless units in fiscal year 2010-11
- 5,383 Average number of homeless counted 2000-11
- $8.1M Amount city spent on the supportive housing program and services in the fiscal year 2003-04
- $38.3M Amount city spent on supportive housing program and services in the fiscal year 2010-11
“San Francisco is Everyone’s Favorite City. But San Francisco also has the dubious distinction of being the homeless capital of the United States,” says a famous local quote from the 2004 San Francisco Ten Year Planning Council. Although the count for the homeless has dropped in the region since 2004, the need for homeless women has increased, especially for those women who are childless or advanced in age.
Though little data is specifically available on the homeless women population in San Francisco, a fair amount of domestic violence shelters and temporary housing facilities exist exclusively for women, but many of the shelters primarily serve women with children.
Like Celia, woman fleeing an abusive relationship in other parts of the country often have nowhere to go. In many U.S. cities, the absence of affordable housing and long waiting lists for assisted housing put domestic violence victims in a compromised position causing them to choose between the abuse or living in the streets.
“One of the leading causes for homelessness regarding women and families in San Francisco is domestic violence” said Hurtado from Raphael House to WNN. “Financial hardship and job loss is the other,” Hurtado added. “The cost of housing, food and public transit is very excessive in this city. So it is very common for them to go into homelessness if they don’t have support in their family or in the community. Then it’s a fast process.”
Raphael House currently accommodates 20 families and has 22 adults in residence. 19 are single mothers and many are in their third trimester of pregnancy. But only two people in the shelter are single woman with no children.
“The risk for homeless women is first an issue of safety- there is constant awareness of safety especially in the cases of domestic violence. There is a risk with single mothers regarding their children in this situation because they do not allow for a safe environment for their children,” says Raphael House.
But not every woman on the street, or living in a car, or bouncing from place to place is a mother. A very distinct group of women are falling through the cracks. The current list of homeless shelters and resources for women in San Francisco proves this point. Out of 8 transitional housing resources listed for homeless women by San Francisco’s Human Services Agency – Department of Aging and Adult Services, only one is exclusively set up for women who are not mothers.
“Although women without custodial children and mothers taking care of young children represent two of the most rapidly growing subgroups of this population…, their needs remain relatively unexplored and largely unmet,” saysVAWnet.org, a national resource center on violence against women. “…these women are particularly vulnerable to multiple forms of interpersonal victimization, including sexual and physical assault at the hands of strangers, acquaintances, pimps, sex traffickers, and intimate partners on the street, in shelters, or in precarious housing situations,” adds VAWnet.org.
Homeless mothers in San Francisco generally end up in an economic state where single parenthood is opposing the rising housing market says Raphael House.
While the clients of Raphael House receive housing for 4-5 months at a time and a wraparound family service including weekly meetings with a case manager every week, workforce development consulting, thousands of other homeless women in San Francisco must opt for transitional shelters.
Celia has stayed at several over the last two years, but finding a place to stay as a woman without children is more difficult.
“I’ve been in and out of different places. The problem for me is I am not a single mother. I feel that shelters give priority to single mothers and not to people like me. There are several transitional housing facilities out there but they are only temporary so I have never been able to stay at one long enough to improve my living situation,” outlined Celia.