The Real Issue Feminists Need To Focus On: Homelessness

Flickr / Selena Smith
Flickr / Selena Smith

On December 7th 2016, Ohio Legislators delivered what many are considering a tremendous blow to women and the broad community of stakeholders vested in women’s right. But what many ignored is the fact that abortion and the terms under which one can be performed are far from the most significant issue attenuating gender equity and female progress today. In fact, while the nation was embroiled in debate over gestation and the time at which a fetus enters personhood, I could not help but scream at the television in disbelief that no one in the recently settled political race (including the pundits projecting its aftermath) had addressed the escalating numbers of women and children (specifically those identifying as Black) who are newly homeless.

In fact, the Coalition for the Homeless highlights that New York City has reached the highest levels of homelessness since the Great Depression, with Black/African Americans representing a disproportionate amount of those displaced. Facts on Homelessness city and nationwide further highlighting the devastating reality, that Black families are becoming increasing more vulnerable; making up the majority of a national homeless population that is 83% higher than it was 10 years ago. In The New York City Department of Homeless Services fiscal year report, these families represent approximately 58% of those relying upon city shelters. But, what the report failed to adequately capture though, is who they are or how they got there.

As a professional actively engaged in female harm reduction and the elimination of forced transiency, I think it important that our nation reengage in dialogue focused on housing as a fundamental right and housing instability as the greatest threat to women’s rights. As a managing member of a Domestic Violence Intervention Program in New York State, which is a part of the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NYSCADV), I know first-hand that a profound number of women needing temporary safe shelter are victims of multilevel oppressions that literally squeeze them out of their homes and lives. While mental health, addiction, felony conviction, and gentrification are often focal points of politicized discussions about who requires shelter, not nearly enough consideration is given to the victim experiences that precede and are more likely to follow female homelessness.

In 2005, the ACLU Women’s Rights Project surveyed homeless women across the United States. The results highlighted the fact that 50% of the participants identified Domestic Violence as the primary cause of homelessness.  But that is only half of the story.

In another study captured in the American Journal of Public Health in 2014, Dr. Elise Riley and a group of medical researchers at the University of California-San Francisco illustrated strong linkages between homelessness and female risk of victimization. Some 300 women who were deemed homeless or “unstably housed” were surveyed, providing damning revelations. Pointing to the condition of homelessness as making women susceptible to threats, physical violence and sexual assault.

So, I am hoping that “Pro-Lifers,” self-proclaimed feminists, political analysts, and the broader community of caring individuals will shift their focuses to holding the Trump Administration that looms ahead, including the next Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson to improvising housing solution for homeless women and children nationwide. To continue to ignore that the enormity of risk displaced populations faced would be one of the greatest tragedies in our nation’s history. TC mark

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