Homeless women deserve humanity, womanhood
July 8, 2017
uzie Robinson’s face is calm as she explains what she thinks defines a woman. We’re sitting on the grass at Mission Dolores Park in San Francisco, her dog laying next to her, a purple tennis ball trapped between his teeth.
“I don’t think there is a definition, she says. “I think a woman can be whatever and whomever she wants, and I don’t think you can define that for any singular person.”
This explanation seems simple enough, but when walking the streets of San Francisco, one can see this is not the case. However liberal or socially aware a city or country likes to say they are, they seem to have yet resolved the frequent dehumanization women experience on a daily basis, and it’s not hard to see why. They don’t understand it.
Growing up in Oakland, I’ve been exposed to homeless people all my life. City staircases and BART stations reeking with the stale stench of urine are not unusual to me. Nor are the huddled messes of dirty blankets, garbage bags, and sleeping forms that dot park benches, underpasses, and other undesirable spaces. I’ve seen and heard plenty of strangers yelling obscenities or quietly talking to themselves as commuters stream past on city streets. I learned from an early age that the best thing to do when encountered with something like what I’ve described is to just stare straight ahead and keep walking. To be safe.
On Wednesday, I went to the Tenderloin for the first time. I saw homeless people once again, nothing new. I was prepared to stare straight ahead, keep walking, and let the clenching of my jaw, the sad guilt, and the wave of embarrassment pass, but this time something was different. This time, I was looking for stories.
I have always known homeless people are not messes of obscene strangers. They are humans with families, dreams, and fears, but I have far too often been swept up in the wave ofhurry past and just don’t look that I have neglected searching for the humans behind the statistics and shallow pity.
Now I know that not all homeless people are women, but I do want to examine their experiences more closely. In most cases, women are often the primary caretakers of any children they may have and in most cases of sexual violence, women are the victims. Of course, there are exceptions to every situation, where men are the primary caretakers of their children, and there are cases when men are the victims of sexual violence.
However, more often than not, women are faced with more challenges when it comes to childcare and sexual violence. When women are homeless, they often have to deal with that, which is a huge challenge on its own, but they could also potentially have to cope with caring for children as well as avoiding sexual violence aimed at them.
Additionally, I have not even considered mental health. Working past the adversity previously mentioned along with treated or untreated mental health could be the end of anyone. Yet, a lot of times, this struggle is barely acknowledged, and when it is, the analysis and conversations that occur rarely scratch the surface. Of course, soup kitchens and shelters work to combat homelessness, but how many provide the services women need, such as childcare or reproductive health resources?
Ultimately, if conversations about homeless women are not happening, their stories and experiences will continue to be ignored and with that ignorance comes dehumanization. That connection can be hard to recognize, but to state it simply, if homeless women are looked past, their experiences, their stories, families, dreams, and fears are lost, and without them, are they really human?
They are. We as journalists and as humans must remember to think about these women always, not just when we need to write an article, gather statistics, or brag about how much pity we have. Improving the lives of homeless women can in turn improve the lives of homeless children and entire homeless families, and we should work to reach out and help, not for the attention or statistics, but for the good of helping one another. We must tell the stories of these women to remind everyone of their humanity.
It’s windy in the park now, and Suzie tells me, “there’s still a pocket of people that don’t look at [women] as equals, and we still have to fight that.”