Poor and Homeless Women
One in 10 Massachusetts residents is living in poverty. Women and children are the fastest growing population experiencing homelessness, with 15% of Massachusetts children living in poverty.
Reasons for poverty and homelessness
The root causes of homelessness are personal and systemic. For some women, it may be unemployment, or the loss of savings during a time of illness, or an unplanned pregnancy. It could be a rent increase or a foreclosure or a condo conversion. She may be suffering from mental illness, alcoholism or drug addiction. With little money and living in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country, our guests find the road back can be long and difficult. Below are some of the most common reasons our guests may be homeless and without a place to turn.
- Growing income inequality - The concentration of income and wealth in America has grown following the Great Recession of 2008. In the past few years we have seen a significant increase in guests who come from middle class backgrounds but are now part of the population of poor in our state. Click here for a visual depiction of this economic landscape.
- Lack of affordable housing - Growth in the Boston housing market has low-income renters increasingly facing extreme and unaffordable rent increases and evictions. And renters moving to another apartment often cannot accumulate the upfront money needed to move in. Gentrification in Boston, resulting in conversion of rental units to ownership condominiums units, has forced many long-time tenants out of their homes. Given the high level of need, government affordable housing programs such as Section 8 or public housing have waiting lists that are several years long.
- Non-living wages - A common myth is that employment is the key to self-sufficiency. In Massachusetts three out of four households receiving SNAP/food stamp assistance has an employed family member. Boston’s housing prices are among the highest in the nation, yet wages have not increased proportionally. An adult earning a $10/hour wage would have to work two full-time jobs to afford Boston market rents. In addition, families receiving public assistance receive a fixed amount of a few hundred dollars a month for basic needs, such as housing, food, and health care.
- Job or income loss - Job or income loss is another risk factor for families who are “one paycheck away from homelessness.” Although the poor are most at risk of homelessness, families struggling to get by who lose the wage-earner’s income—whether due to job loss, illness or a disability—may not be able to continue monthly housing payments, leading to evictions or mortgage defaults from their homes.
- Domestic violence - When a woman decides to leave her abuser, she is usually making the choice between her (and her children’s) safety and housing and financial stability. Massachusetts allows domestic violence survivors to stay in a domestic violence shelter for a maximum of 90 days. Too often, the survivor—likely isolated from friends and family—often must choose between returning to the batterer or homelessness.
- Substance abuse - Alcohol or drug addiction is a disease that affects individuals across social classes. However, a woman living on the edge of poverty often cannot access help to address the addiction and is at a higher risk of homelessness. Once homeless, her ability to obtain supportive housing, adequate health care, and addiction treatment can be hampered by the stigma of addiction.
- Mental illness - Mental illness affects a significant portion of homeless and poor women, with depression, anxiety, bipolar personality disorder, and schizophrenia among the most common diagnoses. Mentally ill women face challenges in fulfilling the obligations to maintain housing and often lack of access to support services and treatment.
Are there any solutions?
The solutions to end homelessness require the political will and the resources to address the causes of homelessness and barriers to permanent housing. Safety net programs are critical in mitigating the impact of poverty on women and families.
- More affordable housing - Increasing the availability and affordability of low-income housing units in Boston will reduce the extensive waiting lists for subsidized housing. Affordable housing initiatives should also be targeted to families with fixed or low incomes.
- Homelessness prevention initiatives - Homeless prevention services, similar to those at Rosie’s Place, should be widely available. During monthly visits to a guest’s home, we create a support system that might include referrals for mental health or substance abuse treatment, primary health care and medications, or help finding a job. We may provide direct financial assistance to prevent eviction, cover unpaid utility bills or purchase household items—whatever the guest needs to stay in her home.
- Affordable healthcare - Increasing access to primary health care, substance abuse treatment and mental health recovery services will help create stability in the lives of women who are at-risk for homelessness.
- Available support services - Providing subsidized childcare and employment assistance will help women find or keep jobs and a steady income.
- Reinstated services for immigrants - Immigrants are significant contributors to the economy and are tax payers, yet federal and state legislation has targeted immigrants for cuts to services and programs. Immigrants need to have access restored to basic services such as affordable housing and health care.