By 2016, there were nearly 500,000 homeless people in America alone, and of those hundreds of thousands, women represent one of the fastest growing demographics facing housing instability. In Denver Colorado specifically, over 11 thousand people are homeless, and of that 11 thousand, women constitute 45%. This means that, in just one city, there are almost 5,000 homeless women, struggling to survive.
We had the opportunity to discuss this with Amanda, a woman facing this struggle herself. She explained to us that “the hardest thing about being homeless is not having anywhere to relax or to sit down because the cops bug you… It’s a felony to even use the bathrooms.” In Colorado, people who are homeless are actually being treated as criminals, because it is now illegal to be homeless. However, this criminalization has done nothing to fix the problem and has, in fact, only hurt homeless communities. Amanda said that she would spend her days at McDonalds because that was the only place that wouldn’t kick her out until nightfall. In addition, shelters are not an option as she “can’t sit anywhere or sleep anywhere because the conditions are so bad. Every day our stuff gets stolen, and it puts women at risk.” After talking to Amanda, it was clear that, by being a homeless women, she was constantly forced into dangerous situations, and constantly forced to fight for her safety.
Amanda has been homeless for 5 years, since her brother and best friend died on the same day, and all she wants is to have a home to live in with her family. When asked about her children, Amanda said, “I have contact with my kids and I visit them and they visit me.” However, she is on probation and she can’t leave the state, making it difficult for her to live with family in other states.
Homelessness is statistically more likely to affect women than men, often due to violence and domestic abuse, forcing women to leave their homes despite having no where to go. When we asked Amanda what we could do to help women, she immediately responded that we needed to “offer self-defense classes.” Women need protection, especially when living on the streets, and it was clear that this evident need was a personal one to Amanda.
Homelessness isn’t going to be fixed overnight, but there are things we can do right now to help stop it. Primarily, we need to start spreading awareness about the topic and change the stereotypes surrounding the issue. Amanda stated that “when people drive by, they assume the worst out of us,” but by engaging in conversations, we are able to gain a sense of feeling and connection with these individuals, and that is the first step in understanding and combating homelessness.
This article was written in collaboration with Helping the Homeless Colorado. For more information, please visit their website at www.helpingthehomelesscolorado.org