What are the issues?
Domestic abuse and sexual violence are the leading causes of homelessness for women, with 20-50% of all homeless women and children becoming homeless as a direct result of fleeing domestic violence. Homeless women are also far more likely to experience sexual violence than women who are not homeless. This is in part due to a lack of personal security when living outdoors or in shelters.
Many large-scale studies on rape crisis report findings that emphasize the violent and traumatic lives of homeless women. One of the most in-depth studies of a racially diverse sample of homeless mothers found that 92% had experienced severe physical and/or sexual violence at some point in their lives, with 43% reporting sexual abuse in childhood, and 63% reporting intimate partner violence in adulthood. It was also found that, when compared to their low-income housed counterparts, the sexual assault experiences of homeless women were more likely to be violent.
Higher Risk of STIs
Sexual assault also affects homeless women's physical health. For example, in one study of homeless women, those who reported a rape in the last year were significantly more likely than non-victims to suffer from two or more gynecological conditions. A lack of comprehensive sex education also leads to higher rates of STIs and unplanned pregnancies among homeless women.
At any given time, about 10% of homeless women are pregnant, which is twice the rate (5%) of all US women of reproductive age. One study found that almost three-fourths (73%) of pregnancies among women experiencing homelessness were unintended at the time of conception. It is important to note that pregnancy and recent births are risk factors for becoming or continuing to be homeless.
Access to Health Care Services
Homeless women are less likely to have a regular source of health care including health insurance, cancer screenings, prenatal care, and specialty care. Homeless women also face barriers to gaining access to the health care system due to a lack of transportation, insurance, knowledge of where to go, and long waits for appointments. One study of homeless women found that they were significantly more likely than low-income housed women to report that, although they needed to see a physician during the past year, they could not manage to do so.
Lack of Education
Myths and misunderstanding drive some women away from pursuing various birth control options or understanding how HIV and STIs are contracted. Many homeless women don’t have a safe space to discuss real issues and solutions.
Access to Basic Feminine Hygiene Products
Local shelters and community programs receive few items addressing basic feminine hygiene. This leaves women with no choice but to use methods that are unsanitary and could potentially lead to illness. Further, a lack of proper feminine hygiene products prevents women from overcoming the stigma of homelessness and negatively affects their employment and housing potential.