Homeless women live invisible lives amid U.S. affluence in Boulder, Colorado
Dana Anderson – WNN Features
(WNN) Boulder, COLORADO, U.S.: A woman shuffles up the street, her hood pulled forward so her face is barely visible. She appears to be wearing too many layers, the scarf wrapped tightly around her neck at odds with the sunbathers in the park. Still, most people ignore her. She is one among many of the homeless living in an affluent area in the United States in Colorado.
The United States holds the highest number of homeless women among industrialized nations. In Boulder, Colorado 43 percent of over 900 homeless people are women, states the data from the 2011 Point in Time Survey used to track homeless populations. Whether moving from shelter to shelter or living on a friend’s couch, women struggle with challenges that can make breaking out of homelessness incredibly difficult.
Dee Dee is one of the success stories. Having been homeless for years, she now works at the local day shelter known in Boulder as the Bridge House. She knows firsthand about the struggles for homeless women.
“Women could be assaulted, and they need more attention than the men do as far as a place just for them.” Dee Dee outlines as she describes the important work she is now doing at the shelter. “You can’t forget where you came from when you’re here every day,” she adds.
A number of forces can push a woman onto the streets. Vera Line, director of finance and administration at Bridge House, says that a woman can find herself on the streets more quickly than one would think. “It’s easy to get in this cycle of homelessness, and it’s hard to get out,” said Line in a one-on-one interview with WNN – Women News Network.
“The point is that poverty is really dehumanizing,” said former Bridge House (Carriage House) Executive Director Joy Eckstine, during the production of a video made especially for the center. Eckstine has over 5 years experience as an expert in psychiatric evaluation that spots conditions common to many of the homeless. These conditions may include, but are not limited to, borderline personality, bipolar disorder and depression.
Poverty in America 2012 is redefining the ‘new’ poor under conditions where welfare is essentially gone and food stamps (food aid) has taken its place says an April 22, 2012 NPR radio story, “Poverty in America: Defining The New Poor.”
“Food stamps have now replaced cash assistance as the most common form of welfare in America. Ten times more Americans receive food aid than those who get cash welfare,” outlines NPR.
For women who are falling through the cracks, domestic violence is often the principle ‘gender-based’ cause behind women becoming homeless. Depending on which survey and the region, up to 100 percent of homeless women have suffered domestic abuse. Other reasons behind homelessness include poverty, wage inequality and lack of affordable housing.
Audrey DeBroux, a caseworker at Emergency Family Assistance Association (EFAA) in Boulder says the underlying causes of homelessness vary. “What I’ve seen a lot of is: women who have been staying with family members can’t any longer, either because of abuse or violence or because it’s just too crowded,” she details. “I see people come in who have lost their job and are reeling not knowing how to support themselves on a lower income.”
Whatever the cause, homelessness can be especially brutal for women. Higher rates of skin disorders and chronic conditions such as ulcers or diabetes plague these women. Life expectancy remains below the national average, with the most recent statistics five years lower than the poorest income group.
Then there is the mental toll; about half of homeless women experience at least one extreme episode of depression since becoming homeless.
Dee Dee understands the emotional distress of homelessness. “I had an advantage because I had a husband and we were together. But when you’re out there by yourself, it’s stressful. You’re guaranteed to get a bed in the shelter of course, but when those 90 days are up, then what happens?”
Vera Line at Bridge House says women often try to establish a support system on the streets by pairing up with a man, but these efforts can themselves be dangerous. “A lot of women we see are really taken advantage of in many ways,” says Line. “I think it’s hard to figure out who you can trust.”
The majority of those who have been on the streets for longer than six months are likely to have been assaulted or raped.
Anne Doyle, board member of the Boulder Outreach for Homeless Overflow (BOHO) and director of Medical Respite Boulder, says the statistics are not exaggerated. Women who are on the streets face very high rates of sex assault risk in addition to crime, theft and other violence, she said. “The more vulnerable you are, the more difficult it is. And women are more vulnerable than men.”
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