UNITED STATES: Are Homeless Women Without Children in the U.S. Last to Get Sssistance?

Monday, October 8, 2012
Women's News Network
North America
United States of America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

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 a 2008 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