Homeless women in the United States

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Main article: Homelessness
A homeless woman sleeping

Women and families represent the fastest growing groups of the homeless population nationally. Approximately half of the homeless population are families with children. Among homeless families, 90 percent are female-headed. However, at least 85% of all homeless are men and homeless families are rare. If a young single-mother is responsible for raising her child or children without familial support and material resources typically heads a homeless family.[1]

Some of the major factors of homelessness amongst American females include domestic violence, of which women are the overwhelming victims, poverty, healthcare and family planning, and the role of women as the primary caregivers of children and the income and housing implications which ensue, divorce, decline of the welfare state, and the lack of affordable housing. Additionally, the poor mental health of women is both a precursor and consequence of homelessness amongst the female population that should be addressed.

Domestic violence[edit]

Domestic violence is a major factor contributing to homelessness amongst the female population. Homeless women are more likely to have experienced childhood sexual abuse and/or foster care and adult partner abuse than the average female population.[2] Nationally, twenty to fifty percent of all homeless women and children become homeless as a direct result of escaping domestic violence.[3] In 2005, fifty percent of United States cities reported that domestic violence is a primary cause of homelessness, and New York City, in particular, reported that about fifty percent of their homeless population had been abused and twenty-five percent of their homeless population was homeless as a direct result of domestic violence.[4] Domestic violence is embedded in a sense of entitlement or privilege, hierarchal beliefs (gender hierarchy), and cultural devaluation of women. Thus, it often comes naturally to abusive men.[5]

The women's movement deserves a great deal of credit for providing resources and safety for the victims of domestic violence. Prior to the women’s movement of the 1960s, female victims of domestic violence had few options for seeking safety.[6] With the impetus of the women’s movement, “safe homes” were created. These “safe homes” birthed the shelter movement. A lot of progress has been made in the fight against domestic violence since the women’s movement of the 1960s. The Family Violence Prevention and Services Act was passed and has since become an important source of funding and support. The 1994 Violence Against Women Act included funding authorization to increase transitional housing for survivors of domestic violence.

Women and Poverty[edit]

Among homeless women, there is an overrepresentation of adults with sole responsibility of care of dependent children and inadequate financial resources. Women, especially single-parent family mothers, are more likely to live in poverty when they have children and have to balance earning money while raising and caring for their children.[7] They are more likely to work part-time and to miss work in order to care for their children. Many homeless and low income women work in service industries, which offer few benefits and low wages, thus contributing greatly to their poverty. These jobs are often referred to as "Pink-Collar Jobs.".[8] it is important to note that job-based discrimination targets all women, but is present on a larger scale amongst minority women. On average, a larger percentage minority women struggle to obtain and maintain jobs. The "last-hired, first-fired complex" refers to the higher level of unemployment amongst minorities. Thus, while all women are faced with some degree of inequity in terms of job offerings (largely as a result of being expected to care for the children), the struggles of minority women are that much greater.[9]

The wage gap also plays a major role in contributing to female poverty. Although women have made noticeable career gains over the years, a wage gap between men and women still exists. Women still only earn, on average, seventy seven cents for every dollar paid to men for equal work.[10] However, seventy-seven cents to a dollar is only considering the ratio of white women to white men. The wage gap between minority women and white men is even larger. African American women are paid only sixty two cents to every dollar, and Hispanic women are paid only fifty four cents for every dollar paid to a white, non-Hispanic man.[11]

Decline of the welfare state[edit]

Participation in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and food stamp programs began to decline dramatically after the enactment of the Federal Welfare Law enacted in 1996.[citation needed] In 1996 President Clinton endorsed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act which required that a person had to work in order to receive government assistance and support. The bill converted AFDC to a block grant- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)-with fixed funding. This is where the federal government gives the states “blocks” of money to distribute for income support and work programs based on what they spent in 1994. According to the Congressional Budget Office, that bill included nearly $55 billion in cuts in low-income programs in a six-year time period.[citation needed]

Other provisions made it possible for states to withdraw a substantial amount of state resources from basic income support and work programs for poor families with children to divert federal TANF block grant funds to other uses.[citation needed]The legislation allowed states[which?] to deny aid to any poor family or category of poor family. Also, the legislation prohibited states from using block grant funding to provide aid to families that have received assistance for at least five years, but the state could also cut that time limit shorter - including availability to cash aide and work slots.[citation needed]

The bill cut out $28 billion in food stamps, cutting the benefits by almost twenty percent.[citation needed]These reductions affected the working poor, the disabled and the elderly. In the legislation the food stamp provision affected the poor between the ages of 18-50 who had no children. The bill reported that these individuals were limited to three months of food stamps while unemployed in any three-year period.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that all of these provisions would deny food stamp benefits to an average of 1 million people a month who are willing to work but can’t find a job and are not offered a workfare. The lack of food eats into the housing budget.[neutrality is disputed][citation needed]

Lack of affordable housing[edit]

Many people[who?] believe that affordable housing is an urban or welfare problem, but it is a problem for people with and without jobs, and it happens in every ethnic background.[citation needed] People in poverty have been increasing due partly to declining minimum wages, and government assistance such as welfare cash assistance and HUD. In the 1970s, the United States Congress increased funding for housing assistance due to the dramatic increase of homelessness. But after the 1980s, HUD assistance fell at an alarming rate.[neutrality is disputed][citation needed]

In 1996 through 1997, Congress allowed zero funding in budgets for new Section 8 certificates.[citation needed]Section 8 is a housing program that allows low-income renters to pay 30 percent of their income to rent in unsubsidized units on the private market.[citation needed]Because the “one-for-one” rule had been abolished, the federal government doesn’t have to provide new or additional Section 8 certificates for every unit demolished. The private market[who?] is to the point where they are unwilling to create and keep affordable housing through the government.[neutrality is disputed]

Reports show that 30 percent of low income people receive housing subsidies.[citation needed] This condemns[neutrality is disputed] most people[who?] to live one paycheck away from living on the streets.[citation needed] Furthermore, as the number of people in or near poverty increases, affordable housing has declined, due to the decrease in government housing assistance, the rising cost of rent, high-end new construction, condominium conversion, and old projects being torn down.[citation needed] Most homeless people rely on shelters until they can find a permanent home, but due to the increase of homeless people, shelters[which?] have had to deny people and families a place to stay because they are over the limit and don’t have room for them.[citation needed]

Mental Health of Homeless Women[edit]

Poor mental health of women is an important precursor to homelessness, as well as a consequence of homelessness for both women and their children. Mental illness is reported in 30% of homeless persons, and in 50% to 60% of homeless women.[12] Homeless women are especially impacted by certain mental health illnesses including antisocial personality behavior, depression, stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Donohoe, Martin. [<http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/481800> "Homelessness in the United States: History, Epidemiology, Health Issues, Women, and Public Policy"] Check |url= value (help). Medscape. Retrieved 22 Sep 2013. 
  2. ^ Donohoe, Martin. [<http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/481800>. "Homelessness in the United States: History, Epidemiology, Health Issues, Women, and Public Policy"] Check |url= value (help). Retrieved 22 Sep 2013. 
  3. ^ [<http://www.acog.org/Resources And Publications/Committee Opinions/Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women/Health Care for Homeless Women.asp&xgt;. "Committee Opinion Committee on Health Care for Underserved Women"] Check |url= value (help). TheAmerican Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Retrieved 22 Sep 2013. 
  4. ^ [<https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/dvhomelessness032106.pdf> "Domestic Violence and Homelessness"] Check |url= value (help) (PDF). American Civil Liberties Union Women's Rights Project. Retrieved 22 Sep 2013. 
  5. ^ Frank, Phyllis; Chris O'Sullivan (2011). [<http://www.ncadv.org/files/Voice Fall 2011-2.pdf> "Is Domestic Violence a "Choice?" No, not exactly...."] Check |url= value (help) (PDF). Voice The Journal of the Battered Women's Movement. 
  6. ^ Williams, Jean Calterone (1998). "Domestic Violence and Poverty: The Narratives of Homeless Women". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 19 (2): 143. doi:10.2307/3347163. 
  7. ^ McLaughlin, Thomas Chalmers. "Women and Homelessness Understanding Risk Factors and Strategies for Recovery. Preble Street Reports". Retrieved 22 Sep 2013. 
  8. ^ Silver, Panares, Gillian, Rea. [<http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/womens-and-childrens-health-policcenter/publications/homeless.PDF> "The Health of Homeless Women: Information for State Maternal and Child Health Programs"] Check |url= value (help) (PDF). Retrieved 22 Sep 2013. 
  9. ^ Weller, Fields, Christian, Jaryn. [<http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/labor/report/2011/07/25/9992/the-black-and-white-labor-gap-in-america/> "The Black and White Labor Gap in America Why African Americans Struggle to Find Jobs and Remain Employed Compared to Whites"] Check |url= value (help). Center for American Progress. Retrieved 8 Dec 2013. 
  10. ^ Highland, Caitlin. [<http://feminist.org/blog/index.php/2012/05/31/families-the-wage-gap-and-the-economy/> "Families, the Wage Gap, and the Economy"] Check |url= value (help). Feminist Majority Foundation. Retrieved 28 Oct 2013. 
  11. ^ [<http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/womenofcolorfactsheet.pdf> "Closing the Wage Gap is Especially Important For Women of Color in Difficult Times"] Check |url= value (help) (PDF). National Women's Law Center. Retrieved 8 Dec 2013. 
  12. ^ Donohoe, Martin. [<http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/481800> "Homelessness in the United States: History, Epidemiology, Health Issues, Women, and Public Policy07 Jul 2004"] Check |url= value (help). Retrieved 22 Sep 2013.  horizontal tab character in |title= at position 66 (help)
  13. ^ Silver, Panares, Gillan, Rea. [. <http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/womens-and-childrens-health-policcenter/publications/homeless.PDF> "The Health of Homeless Women: Information for State Maternal and Child Health Programs"] Check |url= value (help) (PDF). Retrieved 22 Sep 2013. 

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