We’ve all seen it. We’ve all walked past someone on the street asking for money. When we picture homelessness, this image is likely what comes to mind. The image probably consists of an older man on the streets of a big city, with ragged clothes and a cardboard sign saying something along the lines of “Homeless, anything helps”. A Google search of “homeless” turns up hundreds of different versions of this very image. The photographs are almost exclusively of men—but how does homelessness impact women?
We don’t picture women when we picture homelessness because we don’t see how it impacts them. Living on the streets comes with many risks, including poorer health and mental instability. If a woman lives on the streets, she is also more likely to become a victim of sexual assault or to be forced into prostitution. This is one of the primary reasons why we often don’t see women living on the streets like we see men. But just because we don’t see homeless women first hand doesn’t mean that women don’t experience it. In fact, African American women are the most likely to be evicted. It can be argued that eviction is to African American women what incarceration is to African American men (Desmond, 2014). An eviction can often prevent someone from attaining a home, as many landlords will not rent to someone with a record of eviction. Women are more likely to be evicted, making them fall victim to this vicious cycle and forcing them into homelessness. Dr. Matthew Desmond, author of Evicted and countless other studies on the matter, has found that there are a variety of factors that lead to women experiencing higher rates of eviction than men. Simply having children can lead to evictions as they often cause more damage to a property or may be a nuisance to neighbors. Lower wages for women can also make it harder to pay rent, leading to a non-payment eviction. Women’s non-confrontational approach to predominately male landlords also poses a greater risk of eviction.
I am seeing this gender divide play out in the work I do at Homeport. As I go through the data of each resident who received a Gifts of Kindness award to prevent an eviction, I’ve noticed that recipients are overwhelmingly female. Desmond’s research appears to hold true in this case—since women are more likely to be evicted, it can be inferred that they have been more likely to apply for and receive Gifts of Kindness. It is important to recognize that homelessness is a tragedy that affects nearly all demographics, and that it can happen for a variety of reasons. There is not one single image of homelessness.