Updated: Dec 15, 2020
By Sonali Bhana
Image via The Conversation
Women who have nowhere else to go and end up on the streets face constant danger. With no shelter, no security, and no protection, homeless women are forced into dangerous environments to escape similarly unsafe situations at home. Causes of homelessness among women are not just limited to financial instability. Experiencing domestic violence, living in a household where they feel unsafe or have experienced sexual assault, becoming pregnant, or being kicked out by guardians or parents due to sexual orientation can also result in a woman becoming homeless.
The need to seek a safer environment is even more critical when innocent children are part of the equation. Many women leave their abusers out of fear that their children or other loved ones may become victims as well. To escape an abuser without them knowing where they are going, many victims use cash instead of traceable credit cards. Carrying around large amounts of cash can be dangerous, especially when one can get mugged and hurt. Women’s shelters, however, provide a safe environment where women in these difficult situations can receive the support and services that their homes and the streets are devoid of.
According to Lotus House, an organization “dedicated to improving the lives of homeless women, youth, and children”, women’s shelters- like their own Lotus Women’s House- are designed to help those that have experienced hardships like trauma and give them the resources they need to realize their potential. Lotus House also provides support programs for women, including assistance with education, special needs, surgeries and medical treatment, as well as help for those experiencing mental health issues. Women’s shelters cater to the unique needs of women who need help to get back up on their feet and to survive the trauma they have had to endure. According to the Lotus House website, the organization provides services ranging from "group therapy and support groups" and "life skills coaching, adult education" to "job readiness programs.” Shelters with as many resources as Lotus House play a vital role in helping homeless women not only avoid the dangers of life on the streets but also provide them with the tools that they need to begin new chapters in their lives.
However, not all women’s shelters are able to provide the same care that organizations like Lotus House strive to perform. This is why it is so important that people support women’s shelters by volunteering their time or donating money, clothing, or services. Women deserve to feel safe and to live a life without fearing for the physical and financial security of themselves and their children. When a woman’s support system falls through in tough times, or if she has nobody that she can trust or lean on, women’s shelters play a vital role in ensuring that there are other options that can help save these women.
Without adequate support, these life-saving services may be in danger. For example, there is often a time limit on how long a woman is allowed to stay at a shelter. Since shelters have limited space to accommodate other women in similar situations, these places can only provide temporary safety. If a woman is not able to find a job or other safe housing within that time, she may have to go back to living in unsafe environments on the streets or even have to return to her abuser. Only with the establishment of more women’s shelters that receive support- directly or indirectly- through other organizations or individuals within a community, will we be able to further ensure that these women have the time and space they need to build back their lives without the fear that they will be forced back into a dangerous environment.
When done right, shelters can encourage women of all ages to seek assistance. While shelters that are open to both men and women may pose threats to women who have experienced abuse or trauma from other males, women’s shelters can provide a safe space where women can access the aid they need to help them rebuild themselves and become stronger. Women-specific shelters can also invest more in supplies that homeless women may need, like menstrual products or baby products for women who have infants or children to take care of. Unlike shelters open to both men and women, women’s shelters pose the benefit of being able to cater to the needs of homeless women in an environment where they feel secure.
Women’s shelters have the potential to help so many women and make a positive difference in so many aspects of their lives. In order to do this, women's shelters need support, so please, help in any way you can- even if it is just by spending an afternoon volunteering to distribute meals. Many times, just being there can put a smile on someone’s face and help brighten their day because it shows that someone cares about what happens to them. Show that you care by supporting your local women’s shelter and ensuring that these safe places can continue to save lives and create brighter futures.
Written by writer Sonali Bhana