A Hidden Side of Homelessness: Why Women Avoid Homeless Shelters - Springs Rescue Mission A Hidden Side of Homelessness: Why Women Avoid Homeless Shelters - Springs Rescue Mission

Are there fewer women than men struggling with homelessness?

two_strong_womenThis is a great question and it’s harder to determine than you’d think.

Looking at the gender breakdown of our shelter guests, women make up about 24 percent of our population. But that’s just looking at people who’ve stayed in our shelters.

Pikes Peak United Way’s annual point-in-time statistics for 2017 reveal that 37 percent of Colorado Springs’ homeless population are women.

So, it seems safe to say that fewer women struggle with homelessness than men, right?

Well, not necessarily. First, consider this:

Most women will exhaust every option they have before they stay in shelters and transitional housing.

Studies have found that, “Women often rely on situations of ‘hidden’ homelessness, that is, staying with family members or friends, and some seek alliances with men as an alternative to entering into or remaining in homeless services.” There’s a hidden and invisible side of women facing homelessness that’s hard to quantify.

Why is this?

Not all homeless women are mothers or have dependent children

If you’re a woman facing homelessness, most of the assistance available to you falls within two buckets: shelters and services for mothers with children or being lumped together with homeless men. There aren’t many shelters or services available just for women without children.

Thankfully, the number of resources and shelters available for women with children has grown dramatically in the past few years. For a while, homeless moms with children were the fastest growing demographic in the United States’ homeless population. Therefore, a lot of energy and resources have been focused on addressing this startling trend.

But sadly, women without dependent children have seemingly been neglected and left behind. For many women experiencing homelessness, if you don’t have a child with you, then your only option is to stay in a shelter with men. And for most women, that’s not really an option at all.

Homeless women avoid staying in shelters

young_woman_with_groceriesThe very sad reality about homeless women is that a vast majority are victims of physical abuse or sexual violence. Some studies have found that up to 70 percent of homeless women are victims of domestic violence and 41 percent are sexual assault victims.

So, it’s not surprising that homeless women might not feel comfortable staying in a shelter with men.

But women who aren’t victims of violence or abuse by men still avoid homeless shelters. There’s a false perception that women don’t struggle with homelessness as often as men and that if you are a woman facing homelessness, then you’re an exception to the rule.

Instead of going to the shelter, then, many homeless women find alternative ways to stay off the street. Some turn to family and friends—couch-surfing from night to night. Others sleep in their cars. And some even choose to return to abusive fathers, husbands or ex-boyfriends to avoid living on the streets.

Obviously, this avoidance of homeless shelters can perpetuate a bad situation and make it worse. Women struggling with homelessness invisibly have limited access to support groups, homeless services, counseling, and safe housing options that are readily available if they stay in a shelter.

So, how do we make shelters a more attractive option for women facing homelessness?

A space all their own

For starters, there’s a need for women’s shelters. We’ve recognized this need at Springs Rescue Mission, and we opened a women’s shelter last November with 32 beds. On average, though, 60 women stay in our shelter every night. We’re bursting at the seams and having to use mats on the floor to accommodate everyone.

Women’s shelters not only allow women to feel safe and secure, but also help minimize the negative stigma that an invisible population of homeless women perpetuates. That being, women are less likely to struggle with homelessness and that you’re a rare failure if you do.

Homelessness is a complex issue, and its complexity increases year after year as the causes of homelessness continue to evolve: lack of affordable housing, mental illness, addiction and drug abuse, unemployment, domestic violence, LGBT issues, evictions, foreclosures, criminal records, the wage gap, illiteracy, “affordable” healthcare and the list goes on.

One thing is for sure, though. Women are not less susceptible to experiencing homelessness than men. When services are made available to help homeless women specifically, it helps disarm the dangerous notion that encourages many women to struggle in secret. The hope is that more women will feel comfortable seeking the help and assistance they deserve when they know there are services available just for them.

After all, it can make a world of difference when you’re living in a space with other people facing similar issues and tackling similar problems as you. You don’t feel like an exception to the rule. You start to see that there are others in the same boat with you.

This place needs a woman’s touch

woman_getting_GIKAnother way we can make our women’s shelter a more attractive option for women facing homelessness is by giving it the panache and refinement that women often provide to their living spaces. Most women want their living space to feel like home; they want to add colors, decorations, and comfort.

When Valerie Daly, Mrs. Colorado 2017, took a tour of Springs Rescue Mission’s women’s shelter, the blank walls, the bunk beds, the sterile colors, and the general lack of refinement struck her. Valerie knows a thing or two about beauty and refinement, and she immediately wanted to help transform our women’s shelter and make it feel more like home for the 60 women sleeping there every night.

She’s hoping to raise $20,000 so we can purchase more beds, build more stalls in the restroom, and add comfort and decorations that make the space feel more welcoming to women. If you’re interested in helping Valerie accomplish this goal, learn more and help Valerie today.

Helping the homeless women we know about…and the ones we don’t

We know there are at least 500 women that need help and support to find a pathway out of homelessness in Colorado Springs. But for every homeless woman we know about, there may be more struggling invisibly. We’re adding and improving services for women, with the hope that these women won’t struggle alone.

Homelessness is a hard problem to overcome, and it’s even harder to fight it on your own. Learn more about ways you can help women and men experiencing homeless know they’re not alone and that you’re here to help.

About the Author - Matt Stickel

Matt Stickel has been with Springs Rescue Mission for almost four years and is currently serving as the Marketing and Communications Manager. His great-great grandfather was an English carpenter who built some of the first houses along Tejon St. in the late 1800s. Matt's family has called this amazing city home for generations since. He enjoys hiking local trails and reading inspirational books every chance he gets.

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