Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Remembering homeless mothers

We may think that Mothers Day comes along on Sunday, but it is celebrated on May 10 in much of South America, Mexico, India, Pakistan and the Arabian Peninsula. So here in San Francisco, homeless advocates and students from Graduate Theological Union held a procession and speak out for homeless mothers, especially victims of wars, in the War Memorial Veterans Building Garden in Civic Center. The event was dominated by huge plaster puppet "saints" made by students in a class taught by Sally Hindman of the Center for Arts, Religion and Education. The activist San Francisco Coalition on Homelessness and senior artists from West Oakland's St. Mary's Center helped organize the small demonstration and prayer service.

The event was a small but very San Francisco-like mixed bag in the noonday sun.

Spanish speaking mothers looked on.

A brother from the Coalition offered prayer and Fr. Louis Vitale spoke out for justice.

Homeless mothers certainly need any attention they can get. It is surprisingly difficult to find a quantitative description of homelessness among mothers or, actually, anybody. According to the U.S. Census Bureau FAQ

Question: Does the U.S. Census Bureau have information on the population experiencing homelessness?
Answer: The U.S. Census Bureau does not produce counts of the population experiencing homelessness.

If you dig very deeply into their data, in 2000, you find a category of persons living in "Other noninstitutionalized group quarters" who may be homeless; of these 1.3 million people, about 46 percent are female. Who knows how many are homeless? Who knows how many are mothers? Who knows how many the census missed?

Our social scientists also don't seem to know much about homeless mothers. Or, more likely, government institutions that fund social science research won't fund efforts to find out who is on the street in the era of "welfare reform." One of the better studies was completed in 1996, before cutbacks to the aid programs that held these families together. The Worcester Family Research Project (available as a .pdf) provides a glimpse of who homeless mothers are. They are likely to be:
  • Extremely impoverished. In 1996, "homeless mothers reported a mean annual income of $7910 a year, 67% of the federal poverty level for a family of three. About half lived on less than $7000 a year."
  • Subject to residential instability. "Homeless families moved nearly four times in the two years prior to becoming homeless... Eighty-nine percent of the homeless moved in with family or friends in the two years prior to becoming homeless."
  • Socially isolated. Homeless "mothers ...had few relationships they could count on for financial and emotional support."
  • Victims of severe physical and/or sexual abuse and assault. "A staggering 92% of the homeless ... experienced severe physical and/or sexual assaults at some point in their lives. More than 40% ... were sexually molested as children."
  • Sickly. "Nearly one-third of homeless ...women reported a current chronic health condition, with high rates of asthma, anemia, and ulcers. This is especially disturbing since the average age of the mothers was 27 years."
The organizations that brought people to Civic Center need the support of those of us lucky enough to have a place to live this Mothers Day.

1 comment:

Zak said...

thats a disturbing read jan...any idea what is the exact definition of homelessness internaionally as far as stats are concerned?

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