With tears in her eyes and a lump in her throat, Michelle explained to us what a typical night of homelessness looks likes for a woman. “A woman clutches her backpack to her chest and stands under a streetlight” She is terrified of the dangers that come with darkness, keenly aware of her vulnerability as a woman on the street. The streetlight casts a dim glow of safety over her.
John 3:20 states, “Everyone who does evil hates the light and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.”
An electronics store locks the doors and leaves the lights bright to discourage break-ins after hours, because the store owner knows that we, as a community, will not sit idle when we see theft. Someone would speak up – when something valuable is threatened.
Similarly, this woman standing under a streetlight is asking to be seen and desperately hoping that she is someone her community will also see as worth protecting when danger comes. A woman on the street is in grave danger of assault and victimization, especially at night.
“When the sun finally comes up, you thank God – you made it.”
Research shows that women facing homelessness suffer unique gender-based violence, contributing to the higher amounts of drug use with women than men. While 30% of people suffering from homelessness also suffer from mental illness, the rate is significantly higher in female populations. Why is this? Sadly, the answer is trauma. 50% to 60% of women struggling with homelessness suffer mental and emotional disturbances, often pre-dating their homelessness resulting from abuse, fear, and sexual trauma.
According to the Point in Time Count performed by Portland State University, women sleeping unsheltered, such as on the street or in their car, has increased in our city by 19% which leaves them vulnerable to abuse, trauma, and succumbing to the desire to numb the pain through substance abuse.
“I tried to go through every resource possible to get out of that situation. And you just find yourself struggling at every moment and every point of the day.”
Like Michelle, all women entering our New Life program at Shepherd’s Door come traumatized and desperate for safety and hope. They are often trapped in destructive relationships, are battling addictions, and have depleted all their resources. In addition to the effects of trauma on mental health, life on the street activates a person’s stress response system continuously overexposing the body to cortisol and other stress hormones which can disrupt almost all the body’s processes, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Shepherd’s Door was a haven and a salve where Michelle’s emotional wounds could begin to heal.
92% of women in our program were homeless prior to entering. Nearly 1/3 of these women come to us with children who also need help. Families who live at Shepherd’s Door have often previously been sleeping in cars, tents in isolated areas, or other places not suitable for human habitation. Drug rehab centers often advocate 28-day and 30-day programs because that’s what insurance usually covers. Yet most addiction experts admit this isn’t ideal for optimum success. Program success improves in direct proportion to the length of time spent in treatment and the ability to address underlying issues rather than only behavior modification.
Michelle’s life testifies to the power of God in healing a broken life. Transformation and healing are possible. Portland Rescue Mission is shining the light on the beauty of redemption stories like Michelle’s.
We invite you to see Michelle tell her own story of life transformation and hear other redemptive stories like this one by tuning in to KATU on Thursday, August 12, at 9:00 a.m.