Often, we have a vision of men as homeless, lining up at the local shelter for food and a nightly bed. And while that is true, there is a hidden face of homelessness that many don’t see.
Laura* was 61-years-old when her family kicked her out of their home for not helping pay the rent. She was suffering from multiple health issues, making it unlikely she would ever return to work as a custodian. In a devastating moment, Laura became one of 1,355 women experiencing homelessness in the Portland metro area. And this number is rising.
Homelessness is defined by the Department of Health and Human Services as “someone lacking permanent housing”. These people are living on the streets in a shelter, single occupancy room, a vehicle, abandoned building, tent or other unstable and non-permanent situation.
Every two years Multnomah County takes a snapshot of housing and homelessness through an extensive point-in-time count. Looking at this point-in-time count helps our community understand more about our vulnerable neighbors – how they are struggling and how we can help them find a path home.
In the 2017 point-in-time count women experiencing homelessness in the Portland area increased by 16% from 2015 making women on the streets one of our fastest growing segments of vulnerable neighbors.
Women become homeless for a variety of tragic life circumstances that end up spiraling them downward. These life-altering events can include:
Support networks are women’s social capital, a resource which women in crisis must often draw upon very heavily. One main reason women become homeless is because of domestic abuse that often isolates them from community.
Struggling to find a safe place to flee to, abused women often remain longer with an abuser to avoid instability. Isolated and alone they don’t have any safety nets to keep them from slipping into the streets. But once the trauma becomes too much often women find refuge in the only place they can find – the streets.
When women lose their home, life becomes infinitely harder. Everything is work.
Finding a place to shower.
Finding a bathroom.
Women without stable housing daily struggle against challenges that contribute to stress. And that stress worsens health conditions or leads to chronic health issues that are hard to manage on the streets.
Trauma is a constant companion.
Because women on the street experience more assault and abuse they struggle to trust others and to find help. Stressed by their circumstances, women experiencing homelessness have much higher rates of major depressive disorders compared to the general female population.
The paths to homelessness are varied and complex. The reasons women find themselves homeless is deeply intertwined with poverty, lack of community and barriers to social support systems.
This list paints a picture of the changing face of homelessness:
Portland Rescue Mission works to restore vulnerable women’s lives by providing community support, equipping women with life skills and independence. We do that by:
For Portland Rescue Mission, serving women and children experiencing homelessness has been a crucial part of our programs. Our programs for women provide recovery support and community that invests in life change so struggling women can find a way off the street and into a brighter future.
We know that women prosper in communities that provide social, faith-based, cultural supports. When they are connected to networks of family, friends, and neighbors they have less stress and more positive mental health.
Women experiencing homelessness are looking for connectedness. Their needs are deep, made worse by extreme poverty and the unrelenting stress and trauma of homelessness and haunting personal pain. Having a community tethers them to hope when their lives fall apart.
Portland Rescue Mission provides a ladder of services that meet women where they are at. From short-term shelter in our Connect program to long-term recovery and restoration at Shepherd’s Door, women will find hope and community support for a new life of belonging.
Laura’s story ends with hope. She came to Portland Rescue Mission’s Connect, our 3- to 6-month extended shelter program designed to help individuals move off the street and toward permanent housing and employment. Connect participants receive nightly shelter, three meals a day and practical support in career planning, finding housing, job searches, and integration into a healthy community.
For Laura, Connect was her pathway to be safe at last. After getting assessed by Connect staff, it was determined she was eligible for disability income and with the right connections, she started getting disability benefits and saving up money.
While waiting for her benefits, she also addressed multiple physical ailments that were taking a toll on her quality of life. Within months, Laura was better able to manage her pain and get around. She made new friendships and got her own apartment a few blocks from Portland Rescue Mission. Although Laura has been out of the program for over six months, she comes back to Portland Rescue 3 days a week, helping and giving back to the community.
Our vulnerable neighbors need us to give them hope for the future. Community is a major part of how families prosper. Communities that provide social supports create connective bonds that buffer them from the stresses of poverty, abuse, and addiction.
Our Safe at Last campaign is giving women hope and safety off the streets.
Will you help more women like Laura find safety, community and hope today?
Help Us Help More Women!