Stay close to me! said my mother. I was distracted by the clouds that had a nice shade of salmon and peach mixed up on the evening sky and when I turned to face the west the sky was sort of turning into a dull greenish gray among the apparent pollution rising up from the tall buildings of Downtown, Los Angeles. My mom and I walked away from our car and into the pungent smell of weed, tobacco, urine, and gasoline. The ambulance seemed to be rushing back and forth between the same block, it had already gone by around four times. I wanted to interview a homeless transgender woman, but my mother opposed due to her religious values and I was disappointed that I had to walk the other way.
The majority of the homeless on the streets of Skid Row that I could see were minorities, they were either Black or Latinx/Hispanics, I would say about one-fourth of the crowd was Caucasian. As we approached the Downtown Woman’s Center we saw more and more tents that were either able to stand on their own, lopsided or were made out of blankets and tarps. In front of the Downtown Woman’s Center, I saw lady passing out big boxes of pads and tampons for women, as they are aware that these women are not able to afford the necessary feminine care items needed. Some of the shelters such as the Union Rescue Mission were remolded into a bright modern architecture with bright colors such as green, white, and purple. Although most of the shelters looked a bit old, similar to the Downtown Woman’s Center, which was a tall building that had a fire escape at the back and was mostly a dirty but friendly color of Beige painted on top of the old red bricks, with the front of the building having turquoise tinted windows. Once we reached the front of the shelter’s building a big argument between two women over an unidentified box began to violently arise, at that moment I was reminded of the stereotypes that are pit against the homeless.
There tend to be many stereotypes amongst the public that homeless people are lazy, violent, thieves, drug addicts and that there is no hope for them. These stereotypes are about the estimated that 3.5 million Americans [that] experience homelessness per year(NCH, 2009). These stereotypes only share half of the true story and the scary thing about these stereotypes is they do not inform of the immense hardship that these people have to live through every day, nor do they explain how we will get rid of this worldwide phenomenon. The occurrence of homelessness is extremely high in what is considered a first World country, the National Coalition for the Homeless maintains that 17% are single women, and 30% are families with Children. (NCH,2009). The National Center for Homeless Families has stated the U.S. has the highest rate for homeless women, children, and families.
My first interviewee was Cheryl. I had found her the first one in line, in front of the Door of the Downtown Women’s Center. She is Black, had recently styled and dyed her hair Blonde, she mentioned that she was in her mid-forties, she was also very kind, optimistic and pretty. When I asked her how her day was and she said she was having a wonderful day, and that she was visiting the homeless shelter since they have a health clinic. Cheryl was a bit shy to go in depth on her story and why she ended up without a home but she said due to her mental illness she was not given a job and that her SSI or Supplemental Security Income did not go through the system. Our interview ended with her saying her long-term goal was to live her dreams of a better life of owning a salon or to get any kind of work. After having my short conversation with Cheryl, I realized why she seemed so shy and hard to open up.
It is a terror to be a female and homeless because women are more likely to be victims of childhood sexual abuse.., foster care and adult partner abuse (Donohoe, 2009). Not only that but according to Doctor Deborah Finfgled- Connett of the University of Missouri, she writes that Homeless women have a high[er] occurrence of chronic health conditions, and their children suffer from higher than normal rates of physical and mental health problems and problems at school(Connett, 2010). Doctor Connett also states that although only forty percent of Homeless Women do not have children, that means that fifty percent of homeless women are with children. In making these comments, Dr. Connett is urging that women are disproportionately at a disadvantage when it comes to homelessness because they lack access to mental, physical care, and the need for child care assistance.
My last two interviewees were Royce and Cheryl, this is a different Cheryl because apparently, there were a lot of women named Cheryl that Saturday in Skid Row. Cheryl was a Senior Citizen and Royce was in her early 50s. Both of them were black and very kind, informative, and very talkative. Cheryl had her hair lighter tone of brown, but both of them had their hair in their natural texture. Our interview sort of turned more into a conversation, and they had answered questions that I had not written down. Both of them had mistaken me for a student in Junior High. They explained how shelters such as the Downtown Women’s Center had a lot of programs to help homeless women, but not many of the people knew about them because many are afraid to seek out help.
They gave an example of the different housing programs saying that one can sign up if they can show that they’ve been living on the streets for a least a year. Royce had a bit of a problem with this since she’s been living on the streets for six months and wanted to find someplace safer to live. They also mentioned that the shelter had a health clinic, a place to help people get jobs and much more. They mentioned that when living in a shelter they had to show proof that they were staying there in order to qualify and participate in the programs. They explained how everyone has different situations, in Royce’s case, she explained how she could no longer work as a cook at the Dodgers stadium because of a big leg injury, and due its expensive medical bills and with no job to pay them she ended up homeless, and still paying those hospital bills. Both of them explained how they had to deal with depression from living in the streets and how there was a lack of security for them on the streets. There are too many drugs in the streets and too much sexual abuse and violence in order for any woman or person to feel safe said Cheryl. They explained how there was a need in shelters to provide mental help because one too many times have people gone crazy or killed themselves just from living in the streets.
Something that was evident when interviewing Royce and Cheryl was that they did not want to ask their family in fear of being a burden on the rest of the family, I learned later that this was not rare, according to Dr. Connett, many women will leave their families as they do not want to be a burden or involve themselves in others’ problems. Some may question that all homeless women come from dysfunctional families, friendships and/or relationships, however evidence suggests that many of them do have people close to them who have had a history of supporting them. Why would it not be common that a person may experience shame when it comes to facing a personal crisis such as being homeless? That is why Victoria Tischler, of the University of Nottingham, has suggested that a way to help woman cope with homelessness is to create social networks, which is a way to possibly help with post traumatic growth and what I would argue would help with overcoming obstacles such as depression (Tischler,2009). Which is something that has helped out both Royce and Cheryl as they have became good friends and helped each other through and through.
Both of Royce and Cheryl gave me a lot of information about Shelters and how they have updated their programs in order to better help the homeless. Throughout this conversation Cheryl was beaming with passion for the program for housing senior citizens since she finally got herself an apartment to live in. After finishing my interview my mother and I gave each of the ladies a bag filled with feminine products such as pads, tissues, lotion, wipes, heating pad, food and a warm water resistant coat for the winter. I gave each of them of a hug and tearful goodbye as I wished the best for each of them. From talking with Cheryl, Royce and Cheryl I learned that there was more to homeless woman then meets the eye, and there is major need for compassion and communication when it comes to helping out the homeless.
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