Are homeless women without children in the U.S. last to get assistance?

Older single woman who is homeless in San Francisco
An older single homeless woman who is living without the help of any grown children is trying to live any way she can on the streets of San Francisco. Her face shows the intense hardship of living in ‘survival mode’ from one day to the next. She is a minority of the homeless women who are mothers who often find resources with transitional housing much more easy. Image: Franco Folini

San Francisco: Golden Gate to nowhere

“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,” says VAWnet.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.

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“You can’t trust everybody today,” says a single woman without children who has been living on the streets and falling through the cracks of San Francisco’s homeless services for ten years now. She talks about her life honestly, outlining the limitations her situation brings. This 1:48 min video was put on Youtube in February 2012.

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For more information on this topic:

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WNN human rights journalist Jessica Buchleitner has been advocating for global women’s rights for year. In 2009, Buchleitner compiled her upcoming book,”50 Women” for The 50 Women Project with interviews with fifty women from thirty different countries. “The book covers stories of women’s strength and perseverance,” says Jessica. In addition to publishing on WNN, Buchleitner has also been a contributor to The Western Edition San Francisco and The San Francisco Chronicle. “I have always believed the heart of all global communities lie with women.”

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©2012 WNN – Women News Network
No part of this article release may be reproduced without prior permissions from WNN.

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