Women on the Street


Have you ever rushed down the street and felt that nagging feeling of
guilt, as you breeze by someone lying in a doorway? Is she alive? Is she ill?
Why do we all rush by without finding out is she\'s all right?
People sit in train stations, bus stations, parks, doorways,
unmistakably sick, with what, we don\'t know. All are seemingly alone. Some beg.
Some don\'t. Some have open sores that ooze and bleed. Some are drunk. Some
talk to themselves or formless others. They have no homes.
Street people make up a small percentage of the homeless population.
Most homeless people blend into the daily flow of urban life. Many families are
homeless. Many babies go from the hospital into the shelter system, never
knowing what it is like to go home. Women are another subgroup of the homeless.
Solutions to homelessness are not easily found. But before we can solve
problems, we must be sensitive enough that we create the will to find the
solutions. Often if we do not feel the problem, if some emotional response is
not made, we are not moved to seek solutions. We are often unmoved to even
recognize the questions. We cannot afford to keep walking by.
"Work is a fundamental condition of human existence," said Karl Marx. In
punch-the-clock and briefcase societies no less than in agricultural or hunting
and gathering societies, it is the organization of work that makes life in
communities possible. Individual life as well as social life is closely tied to
work. In wage labored societies, and perhaps in every other as well, much of an
individual\'s identity is tied to their job. For most people jobs are a
principal source of both independence and correctness to others. It should come
as no surprise that, in the work force or out, work and jobs are important in
the lives of homeless women.
There are women who want to work and do, and women who want to work and
do not. There are women who cannot work and others who should not work and
still others who do not want to work. Some work regularly, some intermittently;
some work part-time, some full-time; and there are even those who work two jobs.
At any given moment, there is a lot of job-searching, job losing, job changing,
and job avoidance. Within months or even weeks, these may all appear in the
same person.
The process is almost routine. A homeless woman registers with an
unemployment agency. Since there is no way for them to call her when a job
comes up she calls them - three, four times a day. By the third day they
usually tell her, "Don\'t call us, we\'ll call you." If she confesses there is no
way to reach her, they lose interest. Although since 1985, the shelters help
reach people.
Several women reported losing their jobs or the opportunity to get them
when their homelessness became known. One women had been working as a
receptionist in a doctor\'s office for several weeks when the doctor learned she
was living in a shelter and fired her. The doctor told her if he\'d known he
wouldn\'t have hired her, shelters are places of disease.
The jobs homeless women can get do not pay enough to enable them to
support themselves. But, the women desperately want and need the money, the
independence, and the self respect that most of us have come to take for granted
from a job. But, for women to get a job and keep it, the women must run an
obstacle course at the end of which is a low-pay, low-status job that offers a
little more than they have without it. The women - perfectly socialized to the
values of work - continue to value work for what they know their jobs cannot
provide. Even with the starts and stops, and the periodic surrenders to a
workers shelter life.
There is an importance and complex connection between family
relationships and homelessness. For the never-married women, "family", usually
meant family of orientation - the families they were born into. For women with
children, "family", included family of procreation - their husbands and children.
Perhaps predictably, mothers and sisters were more likely to be sources of
support than fathers and brothers. Homeless women had not always been families.
Like everyone else, they were born into families or family-like networks of
human relationships. On the street and in the shelters, one meets many homeless
women who had been kept afloat by family members until, for one reason or
another, the