Homeless women in the United States

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
A homeless woman sleeping

Women and families represent the fastest growing groups of the homeless population in the United States.[1] 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. A young single-mother responsible for raising her child or children without familial support and material resources typically heads a homeless family.[2]

Some of the major factors of homelessness among American women 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 among the female population that should be addressed.

Domestic violence[edit]

Domestic violence is a major factor contributing to homelessness among 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.[3] Nationally, twenty to fifty percent of all homeless women and children become homeless as a direct result of escaping domestic violence.[4] 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.[5] Domestic violence is believed to be embedded in a sense of entitlement or privilege, hierarchal beliefs (gender hierarchy), and cultural devaluation of women.[6]

The women's movement provides 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.[7] With the impetus of the women’s movement, “safe homes” were created, which 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.

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.[8] 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.[9] 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]

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.[10] 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.".[11] it is important to note that job-based discrimination targets all women, but is present on a larger scale among 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 among 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.[12]

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]

Homeless women and crime[edit]

See also: Discrimination against the homeless

Women experiencing homelessness are often given harsher punishments for similar crimes than men experiencing homelessness. A double standard among men and women allow for stricter pressure on ordinances when it comes to women. Research indicates that 20% to 52% of women with a history of homelessness also have a history of arrest or incarceration.[13][14][15] Therefore, homeless women tend to mask their visibility to limit interactions with law enforcement. For instance, panhandling and dumpster diving are legal, however, they may bring with them heightened visibility to the police and may increase the likelihood of police detecting illegal activity.[16] Unwarranted interactions with law enforcement often leads to homeless women’s’ incarceration, based on the discretion of “protection” by the judicial system. Feminist criminology highlights paternalist bias in the criminal justice system when women are arrested "for their own good".[17] The needs of homeless women are ignored because they do not fit the conventional constructions of female identity: "Ideas of femininity and of the proper behavior of a 'good girl' permeate the police, the courts, and the correctional institutions".[18] This creates fear among women experiencing homelessness which has numerous affects. One being, homeless women are afraid to contact law enforcement when experiencing sexual assault because of the “illegal activities” they might be in.[19] Thus, victimized women who experience homelessness are often unreported and unprotected.

Health and healthcare of homeless women[edit]

With limited access to health care, the homeless are at increasing risk of poor health outcomes. Homeless women especially, are less likely to benefit from routine medical assistance, health insurance, cancer screening, adequate prenatal care, appropriate ambulatory care, and specialty care.[20] Additionally, the homeless population has a higher death rate than the general population in the United States. Research conducted from the mid-1980s to the late 1990s show that health conditions such as hypertension, arthritis, mental illness, substance abuse, victimization, and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) like tuberculosis, HIV and are most common in the homeless population.[21][22]

Infectious diseases in homeless women[edit]

Social determinants of health go hand in hand with the occurrence of Herpes Simplex Virus type 2 (HSV-2), and so does homelessness. In the United States, about 21 to 24% are infected with HSV-2 as compared to 88% among homeless women and an even higher prevalence among HIV positive homeless women. Despite this seroprevalence, homeless women are not considered to be a high-risk population in national guidelines. HSV-2 increases the risk of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) infection. Most homeless women are unaware of their HSV-2 infection. This renders them more vulnerable to HIV exposure.[23]

Besides financial instability, the contraction of HIV/AIDS has been shown to be more associated with homelessness.[24] Homeless women are more likely than poor, housed women to practice unprotected sexual activity with multiple partners exposing themselves to HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).[25]

Mental health of homeless women[edit]

Poor mental health of women is an important precursor and consequence 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.[26] Homeless women without children are more likely than homeless mothers to disclose their admission into a mental institution.[1] Homeless women are especially impacted by certain mental health illnesses including antisocial personality behavior, depression, stress, and post-traumatic stress disorder.[27]


  1. ^ a b Welch-Lazoritz, Melissa L.; Whitbeck, Les B.; Armenta, Brian E. (2015-11-01). "Characteristics of Mothers Caring for Children During Episodes of Homelessness". Community Mental Health Journal. 51 (8): 913–920. doi:10.1007/s10597-014-9794-8. ISSN 0010-3853. 
  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). Medscape. Retrieved 22 Sep 2013. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ [<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. 
  5. ^ [<https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/dvhomelessness032106.pdf> "Domestic Violence and Homelessness"] Check |url= value (help). American Civil Liberties Union Women's Rights Project. Retrieved 22 Sep 2013. 
  6. ^ 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). Voice The Journal of the Battered Women's Movement. 
  7. ^ 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. 
  8. ^ Axinn, June; Stern, Mark J. (2011-11-21). Social Welfare: A History of the American Response to Need. Pearson Higher Ed. p. 316. ISBN 9780205892808. 
  9. ^ Axinn, June; Stern, Mark J. (2011-11-21). Social Welfare: A History of the American Response to Need. Pearson Higher Ed. p. 316. ISBN 9780205892808. 
  10. ^ McLaughlin, Thomas Chalmers. "Women and Homelessness Understanding Risk Factors and Strategies for Recovery. Preble Street Reports". Retrieved 22 Sep 2013. 
  11. ^ 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). Retrieved 22 Sep 2013. 
  12. ^ 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. 
  13. ^ North, Carol S. (1993). "A Comparison of Homeless Men and Women: Different Populations, Different Needs". Community Mental Health Journal. 5: 423–431. 
  14. ^ Jasinski, Jana L. (2007). "Childhood Abuse as a Precursor to Violence among Adult Homeless Women". Child Poverty in America: 185–192. 
  15. ^ Zugazaga, Carole (2004). "Stressful Life Event Experiences of Homeless Adults: A Comparison of Single Men, Single Women, and Women with Children". Journal of Community Psychology. 6: 643–654. 
  16. ^ Constance et. al, Chapple (2004). "Gender and Arrest among Homeless and Runaway Youth: An Analysis of Background, Family, and Situational Factors". Journal of Community Psychology. 2: 129–147. 
  17. ^ Belknap, Joanne (2001). The invisible woman: Gender, crime and justice. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth. 
  18. ^ Madriz, Esther (1997). Nothing Bad Happens to Good Girls. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 9780520208551. 
  19. ^ Fels et. al, Smyth (2006). "The full-frame approach: A new response to marginalized women left behind by specialized services". American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 76: 489–502. 
  20. ^ Teruya, Cheryl; Longshore, Douglas; Andersen, Ronald M.; Arangua, Lisa; Nyamathi, Adeline; Leake, Barbara; Gelberg, Lillian. "Health and Health Care Disparities Among Homeless Women". Women & Health. 50 (8): 719–736. doi:10.1080/03630242.2010.532754. 
  21. ^ Lewis, Joy H.; Andersen, Ronald M.; Gelberg, Lillian. "Health care for homeless women". Journal of General Internal Medicine. 18 (11): 921–928. doi:10.1046/j.1525-1497.2003.20909.x. 
  22. ^ Zlotnick, Cheryl; Zerger, Suzanne; Wolfe, Phyllis B. (December 2013). "Health care for the homeless: what we have learned in the past 30 years and what's next". American Journal of Public Health. 103 Suppl 2: S199–205. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2013.301586. ISSN 1541-0048. PMC 3969140Freely accessible. PMID 24148056. 
  23. ^ Kelly, J. Daniel; Cohen, Jennifer; Grimes, Barbara; Philip, Susan S.; Weiser, Sheri D.; Riley, Elise D. (2016-05-31). "High Rates of Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 Infection in Homeless Women: Informing Public Health Strategies". Journal of Women's Health. 25 (8): 840–845. doi:10.1089/jwh.2015.5579. ISSN 1540-9996. 
  24. ^ "HEALTH PROBLEMS OF SHELTERED HOMELESS WOMEN AND THEIR DEPENDENT CHILDREN: Start Your Search!". eds.a.ebscohost.com. Retrieved 2017-11-30. 
  25. ^ Wenzel, Suzanne L.; Cederbaum, Julie A.; Song, Ahyoung; Hsu, Hsun-Ta; Craddock, Jaih B.; Hantanachaikul, Wichada; Tucker, Joan S. "Pilot Test of an Adapted, Evidence-Based HIV Sexual Risk Reduction Intervention for Homeless Women". Prevention Science. 17 (1): 112–121. doi:10.1007/s11121-015-0575-6. 
  26. ^ 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)
  27. ^ 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). Retrieved 22 Sep 2013. 

External links[edit]