Homeless women face specific dangers when they live on the streets, and often, their positions have an impact on their identities.
In addition to danger, the loss of their safety, of their families and of their dignity brings homeless women a sense of shame, said Veronica Brown, a community advocate for a domestic violence agency called New Beginnings.
The dangers homeless women face do not only impact their identities; they are also physical. Carmela D’anna, who formerly worked in the Emergency Radiology department at Harborview Medical Center, said she frequently saw homeless women rushed in.
“There were a couple of times when I’d see homeless women come in beaten from fights, and one woman [was] raped in an alley,” D’anna said.
Brown also saw how homeless women have been affected.
Sexual assault is prevalent when a woman ends up without a place to live, and women sometimes end up trading sex for shelter or food money, Brown said.
These women are in danger of being kidnapped, losing their children and sometimes, losing their lives.
To deal with the pain and troubles that got them to where they are homeless women cope with these challenges in a different way than men do, she said.
To avoid being identified as homeless, women groom themselves to blend into society. Brown said being identified as homeless is both dangerous and humiliating for women. Homeless women may not be seen panhandling on the street as often as men are, but they are there, she said.
Women who are driven to homelessness from the threat of violence at home range in age from 18 to 85 years old and come from all sides of the socio-economic spectrum, Brown said.
“Domestic violence does not discriminate,” she said.
But sometimes, women are so afraid of the dangers the streets will bring that they don’t realize or acknowledge the degree of danger present at home. Brown said she had a client two years ago who was killed by her domestic partner before she had a chance to make this connection.
The threat of domestic violence is not the only thing that drives women to homelessness, Brown said. Mental illnesses, lack of employment and substance abuse are also factors in some cases. Brown said these types of traumas make reintegration a tumultuous process.
Some of these women don’t feel they deserve a place to live or someone to love them, and the streets become a new reality, Brown said. She tries to help turn this negativity around.
“We want to empower them to be self-sufficient,” she said.
Diane DeLapp is a caseworker at Sophia’s Way, a homeless shelter for women in Bellevue. She orchestrates the initial intake of women into the shelter and has met with homeless women every week since February 2009.
Not everyone ends up finding shelters like Sophia’s Way, and not every woman who finds a shelter has a happy ending, DeLapp said.
“Most make it,” she said. “[But] some leave the program. Some people just want to be free.”
Both DeLapp and Brown said women are turned away from their organizations daily. Brown said the lack of funding is a growing barrier to getting these women help.
DeLapp said she remembers sitting in her office more than two years ago with a woman who relapsed on her progression out of homelessness. All this woman knew was grief, and her only wish was to be reunited with her children, DeLapp said.
When this woman failed to meet the shelter’s program requirements, she was arrested, DeLapp said.
But three months later, the woman returned to the shelter, and so did her hope for something better, DeLapp said. The woman celebrated Christmas 2011 with her eldest son and his family.
Because of the efforts of Sophia’s Way, this woman regained her children and her sense of self, and now, she has a home, DeLapp said.
“She doesn’t look like the same woman,” she said. “She’s not the same woman.”
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Title: Groups empower homeless women | Author: Si Si Dumas | Section: News | Published Date: 2012-02-29 | Internal ID: 8078