We have come a long way since homelessness among women was not considered to be a problem, but we still have a long way to go. It wasn’t that long ago that programs for the homeless were exclusively for men. The assumption was that all a homeless woman had to do was find a man to take her in and take care of her.
We’ve left those attitudes behind and today there is increasing emphasis on helping homeless women. One good example is Room in the Inn, in Asheville, NC. which takes in women and pairs them with case managers to transition into permanent housing.
Room in the Inn, operated by Homeward Bound, helps up to 12 women at a time. Housing is provided by local churches. Clients at the moment include Pam Pressley, a 42-year-old who became homeless after her marriage and a subsequent relationship collapsed. She tried the Western Carolina Rescue Mission shelter, but didn’t fit in with the regimen:
I had never been homeless before and I needed to figure out how I ended up here and I just wanted to move forward with my life. But I couldn’t do that with the strict requirements of the shelter, working long days, so I had to get out of there.
Her goal is to go back to school to become a nurse after moving into an apartment of her own. “This has all taught me how tough I am and what it means to be a strong woman,” she said.
Pressley is on her way to escaping from homelessness, but there are many others not so fortunate. A significant proportion of Asheville’s homeless population, which numbers more than 500, are women. Roughly 30 percent of homeless women escaped abusive relationships, which means that going back “home” is not at option.
Various agencies are working to meet the need. The Rescue Mission has overnight facilities for both women and families Asheville Buncombe Community Christian Ministries has Steadfast House, temporary transitional housing for female veterans and children.
, and they are not necessarily people such as Pressley, who was homeless only for a short period of time. Consider alumna Donna Ball, who was homeless for 13 years, generally living off her sister and men with whom she lived:
I grew up with parents who were vocal about the fact I was a mistake and that they didn’t want me, so I started using heroin at 11 years old to escape my life.
Today, she lives in her own apartment and has a full-time job working with children and adults with autism. She is married and has a relationship with her children. She has been clean of drugs ever since her first night at Room in the Inn in 2011.
“I knew she was going to make it,” said Sharon Blythe, who since 2009 has been Room in the Inn’s volunteer programs director. “She was honest from the get-go and wanted to get her life back.”
We need more success stories such as Donna Ball’s. Move for Hunger reports that “on a given night, nearly 20 percent of the homeless population had serious mental illness or conditions related to chronic substance abuse.”
That doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands. It means that we get moving. We need more facilities on the model of Room in the Inn, which provide long-term housing and counseling. More and more, we will need entities specializing in those with drug and alcohol problems or mental-health issues.
Room in the Inn is doing a great job but it can’t solve the problem alone.