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Strengths & struggles of homeless mothers

Thu, Nov 1, 2012

During this election year politicians have been particularly clued in to the importance of women and their role in society. More times than not, popular culture focuses on men, crediting them with being the primary source of strength and stability in the family. However, it is a fact, (if not frequently enough publicly stated), that it is women who more often serve as the bedrock of the family.

When it comes to family homelessness, it is also women who shoulder the greater burden. Although there are homelessness men who struggle to keep their children with them, the majority of homeless families are headed by a single female. The National Center on Family Homelessness reports that families experiencing homelessness:

– Are typically comprised of a mother in her late 20s with two children
– 84% of families experiencing homelessness are female-headed.
– 42% of children in homeless families are under age six.
– More than half of all homeless mothers do not have a high school diploma.
– 29% of adults in homeless families are working.
– Have much higher rates of family separation than other low-income families.

The impact of homelessness on mothers is profound. Many are sad, fearful, and hopeless. For them, the experience of homelessness is another major stressor layered on other traumas.

– Over 92% have experienced severe physical and/or sexual abuse during their lifetime.
– Mothers experiencing homelessness struggle with mental health issues.
– About 50% have experienced a major depressive episode since becoming homeless.
– Mothers often are in poor physical health.
– Over one-third have a chronic physical health condition.
– They have ulcers at four times the rate of other women.

In 1931, as a result of my grandfather’s struggles with alcohol, my grandmother found herself a single mother raising four children in the middle of the Great Depression. The one thing she stressed to her children was that she would never allow the family to be separated. No matter how many jobs it took or what sacrifices would have to be made, she promised to keep her children with her. My grandmother kept her promise. Although it was largely due to her hard work and perseverance, she overcame her struggles in part because of the help she received from government aid.

Today the programs that helped my grandmother succeed are at risk. As we celebrate the gift of a mother’s love let’s also take a moment to remember the mothers across our country who are living with the terrible stress of homelessness. As we pause to consider their plight let’s also think of the ways we can help. Calling our legislators to ask that no cuts be made to government programs for poor women and children is an effective place to start.

1 http://www.familyhomelessness.org/families.php?p=ts

- Jim LoBianco
StreetWise Executive Director


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