The Hidden Face of Homelessness

Often, we have a vision of men as homeless, lining up at the local shelter for food and a nightly bed. And while that is true, there is a hidden face of homelessness that many don’t see.

Women.

Woman suffering with houselessness.

The Growing Need

Laura* was 61-years-old when her family kicked her out of their home for not helping pay the rent. She was suffering from multiple health issues, making it unlikely she would ever return to work as a custodian. In a devastating moment, Laura became one of 1,355 women experiencing homelessness in the Portland metro area. And this number is rising.

Tonight, over thirty-six percent of the people experiencing homelessness in the Portland metro area will be women.

Homelessness is defined by the Department of Health and Human Services as “someone lacking permanent housing”. These people are living on the streets in a shelter, single occupancy room, a vehicle, abandoned building, tent or other unstable and non-permanent situation.

Every two years Multnomah County takes a snapshot of housing and homelessness through an extensive point-in-time count. Looking at this point-in-time count helps our community understand more about our vulnerable neighbors – how they are struggling and how we can help them find a path home.

In the 2017 point-in-time count women experiencing homelessness in the Portland area increased by 16% from 2015 making women on the streets one of our fastest growing segments of vulnerable neighbors.

The Reasons Women Become Homeless

Women become homeless for a variety of tragic life circumstances that end up spiraling them downward. These life-altering events can include:

  • Loss of a job or lowered wages
  • Increased rent
  • Health care crisis
  • National disaster
  • Family emergency
  • Landlord bullying
  • Addiction
  • Domestic abuse

Support networks are women’s social capital, a resource which women in crisis must often draw upon very heavily. One main reason women become homeless is because of domestic abuse that often isolates them from community.

Struggling to find a safe place to flee to, abused women often remain longer with an abuser to avoid instability. Isolated and alone they don’t have any safety nets to keep them from slipping into the streets. But once the trauma becomes too much often women find refuge in the only place they can find – the streets.

The Struggle on the Streets

When women lose their home, life becomes infinitely harder. Everything is work.

Finding food.
Finding shelter.
Finding a place to shower.
Finding a bathroom.
Staying safe.

Blonde woman sitting near a brick building, looking into the distance.

Women without stable housing daily struggle against challenges that contribute to stress. And that stress worsens health conditions or leads to chronic health issues that are hard to manage on the streets.

Trauma is a constant companion.

Because women on the street experience more assault and abuse they struggle to trust others and to find help. Stressed by their circumstances, women experiencing homelessness have much higher rates of major depressive disorders compared to the general female population.

Facts About Women Experiencing Homelessness

The paths to homelessness are varied and complex. The reasons women find themselves homeless is deeply intertwined with poverty, lack of community and barriers to social support systems.

Two women from Portland Rescue Mission’s “Connect” program stand in front of the Burnside Shelter.

This list paints a picture of the changing face of homelessness:

How Portland Rescue Mission Restores Women’s Lives

Portland Rescue Mission works to restore vulnerable women’s lives by providing community support, equipping women with life skills and independence. We do that by:

Two women holding up a sign saying “At Shepherd’s Door, women will find hope and community support for a new life of belonging.”
  • Providing low-barrier programs that lift women up into community so they have the support they need to find stability.
  • Equipping women with vocational training so they can move out of hopelessness and into stability.
  • Year-long recovery programs for women and children that work to break the cycle of hopelessness and despair.
  • Connecting them with resources to find a new path towards healing and recovery.
  • Giving them time to grow and work towards goals after graduation with Community Houses for single women and moms (link to the blogs).
  • Giving vulnerable children a safe and nurturing environment to mitigate toxic stress.
  • Building safety nets for families so they will have long-term success.
  • Empowering women with community support systems to help them meet their child’s basic needs.

A Place of Their Own

  • Tonight, over 56 women will sleep in safety and hope at Portland Rescue Mission.
  • Every year over about 210 women will be served on their path home to restoration through Portland Rescue Mission’s programs.
  • Women in our programs participate in in-depth recovery classes for a year or more so they can stabilize and break the cycles of poverty, abuse and addiction.
  • 60% of women who start one of our Restoration programs, complete it.
  • 75 children were served last year in our Family Life Program.
  • In 2017, 10 children were permanently reunified with their mothers and their DHS child welfare cases closed.
  • In 2018, 12 children started the process of being permanently reunified with their mothers.
  • Mothers receive parent training where they work one-on-one with staff members to learn essential parenting skills.
  • Our Family Life Center provides joyful childhood experiences for children in our program so they reclaim their childhood.
  • Women receive conflict resolution training so they can learn to practically manage disputes with co-workers in healthy ways.
  • Over 35 employers in the Metro area provide various vocational training opportunities to women in our programs.
  • Each week, women in our programs do 20 hours of vocational training as part of their recovery program.
  • Women in our programs get vocational training in a variety of different job skills including customer service, retail, catering, food service, childcare, maintenance and janitorial, and landscaping.
  • Our social enterprises – Mission Bar-B-Que, Lighthouse Coffee cart and Drive Away Hunger provide women in our programs vocational training opportunities that give them job skills for sustainable stability.
  • For women in our service program, Portland Rescue Mission puts $500 towards training that aligns with their job areas – such as certified nursing assistant training, professional peer support certification and more.
  • Women in our programs receive training through Rent Well, a 15-hour education course that focuses on teaching participants how to be a responsible and stable renter.
  • Program participants receive in-depth life skills education that covers work ethic, time management, resume building, and job skills.
  • Our programs have a strong emphasis on building skills, gaining confidence, setting goals and planning for the future.
  • 80% of women who graduated from our New Life programs remain free from addictions and in housing three years after graduation.

Meeting Women Where They Are At

For Portland Rescue Mission, serving women and children experiencing homelessness has been a crucial part of our programs. Our programs for women provide recovery support and community that invests in life change so struggling women can find a way off the street and into a brighter future.

We know that women prosper in communities that provide social, faith-based, cultural supports. When they are connected to networks of family, friends, and neighbors they have less stress and more positive mental health.

They belong.

Women experiencing homelessness are looking for connectedness. Their needs are deep, made worse by extreme poverty and the unrelenting stress and trauma of homelessness and haunting personal pain. Having a community tethers them to hope when their lives fall apart.

Portland Rescue Mission provides a ladder of services that meet women where they are at. From short-term shelter in our Connect program to long-term recovery and restoration at Shepherd’s Door, women will find hope and community support for a new life of belonging. 

A New Beginning – Laura’s Story

Laura’s story ends with hope. She came to Portland Rescue Mission’s Connect, our 3- to 6-month extended shelter program designed to help individuals move off the street and toward permanent housing and employment. Connect participants receive nightly shelter, three meals a day and practical support in career planning, finding housing, job searches, and integration into a healthy community.

For Laura, Connect was her pathway to be safe at last. After getting assessed by Connect staff, it was determined she was eligible for disability income and with the right connections, she started getting disability benefits and saving up money.

While waiting for her benefits, she also addressed multiple physical ailments that were taking a toll on her quality of life. Within months, Laura was better able to manage her pain and get around. She made new friendships and got her own apartment a few blocks from Portland Rescue Mission. Although Laura has been out of the program for over six months, she comes back to Portland Rescue 3 days a week, helping and giving back to the community. 

Your Generosity Truly Changes Lives

Our vulnerable neighbors need us to give them hope for the future. Community is a major part of how families prosper. Communities that provide social supports create connective bonds that buffer them from the stresses of poverty, abuse, and addiction.

Our Safe at Last campaign is giving women hope and safety off the streets.

Your $24 monthly donation will provide safety, meals, and life-giving care to a woman reaching for a new life.

Will you help more women like Laura find safety, community and hope today?

Help Us Help More Women!

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