A Woman's Homelessness Is Different

Becoming an advocate for local homeless folks wasn't something I planned on becoming, it was just something I ended up doing after I had become homeless myself and before I could reach out to other folks, I had to learn how to be an advocate for myself. So while navigating through a lack of services, jobs and whatever else I need to get through this current life, I take the time to talk to other women about their homeless experiences and find that we all have something in common that gets overlooked; our homelessness is different. I've seen for myself that in some towns, single men can find shelter but not women and if you're a woman with kids, it's a nightmare! I've talked to women who were told to leave their husbands and give up their kids so they could get into a single woman's shelter or worse yet, stay with an abusive spouse to avoid homelessness. I've had other women suggest to me that I should use men for money as a way to "make a living" for myself and I'll never forget a very frightening conversation I had with one woman who told me that although she doesn't condone these women in the news who kill their children, she can understand doing so rather than letting hers live in poverty. Oh and don't' forget that ever present misconception that a woman with kids can just "get on welfare"!

In case you're living in a vacuum or on another planet, let me tell you about how "welfare" works. First, you have to be eligible to get it and even then, it's only $400.00 (if that) a month no matter how many kids you have so that myth about getting so many dollars per kid is just that, a myth! Since when is $400.00 a month going to keep a roof over your head? If you get food stamps on top of that, it still won't pay for rent! Secondly, you will be required to take part in a WorkFirst program that may or may not work for you and guess what? If you are unable to find a living wage job within the program's guidelines, you will be asked to do community service which won't get you out of poverty. Second, if you only need help with childcare so you can keep the job you have or have somewhere for the kids to be while you go out and look for a job, you can forget about it unless you're in one of the state's approved WorkFirst programs.

Here's another one that really lights my fuse and that's being told to give up your kids to a stranger who will get a check to take care of your kids instead of the parents getting the help they need to keep their families together. It's called Foster Care and not every child should be in it. Also, once a kid turns 18, say goodbye to Foster Care checks and hello to youth homelessness. I find it ironic that the same people touting family togetherness while looking down their noses at the less fortunate are the very same people willing to allow poorer families to be torn apart by poverty!

Oh and don't you love it when you hear people say that with child support, you should be getting along fine? Ha ha ha... ask any mother (or father) who isn't getting child support or not getting it on a regular basis what they think about that or how they feel when society plays the blame game by telling them that they shouldn't have had kids in the first place while completely ignoring the fact that it is often one parent who gets stuck with all the costs of raising the kids while struggling with a lack of help but plenty of judgment! Blame does not change the fact that there aren't enough living wage jobs or affordable housing to go around for everybody or that to not everyone has family either willing or able to help them out.

Most people are aware of the amount of predatory behavior towards women that goes on out here and that can be anything from outright prostitution to sexual favors for being allowed to live in some guy's place free of rent but there's also the assumption that if a woman is desperate, she'll allow herself to be taken advantage of by working under the table for less than minimum wage. Then there are those situations where in exchange for a place to stay, sharing your food stamps or social security check means a temporary reprieve from homelessness but not a permanent end out of poverty. Plus, if something suddenly happens to the host's circumstances, you will be back into homelessness, maybe even worse than before. One of the biggest lessons I've learned out here is to never get too comfortable in someone else's space because there's no such thing as a guarantee that things won't change.

There are more roadblocks than help when it comes to getting out of homelessness and the biggest growing sector in the demographic is family homelessness and from what I've seen where I'm at, it's women with kids in motels, couch surfing, living out of their cars, in the basement of churches or roughing it outside. When will it end?