San Francisco’s homeless population of around 6,500 is just behind New York’s as the largest in the nation and a stroll through the Tenderloin on any given day will reaffirm that ranking. Media outlets and humans rights activists alike have been spreading awareness of the situation on a broader sense for years, but when the daily struggles specific individuals experience create a common thread, we become compelled to do something.
The fastest growing portion of the homeless population is composed of women and children. Homeless women are at risk of rape and attack, sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, substance abuse disorders and depression. In addition, their lack of access to common hygiene products is horrific to imagine. .
Research shows that 1 in 4 homeless women link some kind of domestic abuse or violence with their resulting homelessness. Substance abuse disorders and mental health disorders are often the direct or indirect force that drives women to homelessness. In addition, several homeless women are veterans and immigrants.
If you have the cash but not the time…
Several organizations in the City are geared towards providing and contributing to housing specifically for families which are predominantly female headed. They have websites with options for donating if you would like to do your part.
Hamilton Families in an organization that gives you several options for donating ranging in amounts. On their website, you can select the amount you would like to donate and it will explain specifically what that donation will help with. For example, a $100 donation provides children living in shelters with activities and art supplies and $1,000 provides assistance so a family can move in and get settled in their new home. You are also welcome to donate less or any amount you choose.
You could also donate to La Casa De La Madres, a local shelter and advocacy program against domestic violence.
If you’re a giver…
One way to personalize and connect with homeless women regularly is to always keep some granola bars and water bottles in your purse so you can hand them out when needed.
One great idea that has been circulating on Facebook is the old purse idea. Most of us have several purses we haven’t worn in years and likely won’t wear again. It is fun and personal to collect your old purses and fill them with products that women might need in addition to some snacks and water and even a kind note or quote to make their day a little brighter.
Lack of access to hygiene products is a HUGE problem for women especially because a monthly period is inevitable and they cannot handle it like we can. Tampons are pricey. Not to mention the several other essential hygiene products we need- deodorant, toothpaste and a toothbrush, shampoo.
The Blossom Foundation hands out sanitary bags that help women with their monthly period. Get involved with them so you can donate products or take the more hands-on approach and hit the pavement with other volunteers.
Lava Mae is an organization that has created a mobile hygiene service that travels throughout the City and gives the homeless access to hot showers and toilets. You can sign up for a volunteer shift on their website and get to ride around with them and make a difference.
Clean out your closet and dig up some of your old winter items- sweaters, hats, gloves, coats. Although they might be of no use to you, they could be the factor that prevents a mother and her child from getting sick from temperature.
If you’re a talker…
If you pass the same women on your stroll to work each day and she seems approachable, engage in a conversation. Learn her name and say hello to her each day. A result of homelessness for many is feelings of self hate and incompetence as well as loneliness. You might be surprised how much some dialogue can do.
If you are the teacher type, you could become a mentor for someone. The Today Show recently reported about a man who meets a homeless woman for lunch every day and teaches her to read. If you can offer your knowledge of a basic skill to someone, it could open opportunities for that person that they otherwise wouldn’t have. If you are a mother and see a pregnant homeless women, offering them advice might go a long way.
Hamilton Families does a lot with teen empowerment so you can find out several ways to get involved with teens affected by homelessness as well.