There is a hidden side of homelessness: women who exhaust every option before they seek the aid of a shelter.
Traditionally, men have made up the larger majority of the homeless population, but recent studies show women represent more than 40%of homeless Americans..
Now, centers across the country are evolving, becoming better equipped to help women get back on their feet.
For decades, women stayed in situations that may have been unhealthy for them, or they were afraid to go out on their own.
But, with this new empowerment, comes a rising number of women seeking the help of homeless shelters and trying to forge a better future.
Tracy is now enjoying the simple comforts of home, but it was a long and hard road to get here.
“The hardest part was watching my kids watch me struggle,“ she says.
As it turns out, Tracy is part of a larger shelter story and part of the hidden side of homelessness.
According to recent studies and from data from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, women often exhaust every other option they can before they will stay in a shelter or transitional housing.
Karen Santelli says, “Nationally the number of individuals who are homeless is around a half million. Women represent about 40% of that. The chronic homeless tend to be more men, so if you are a woman not part of a family, not a vet, or not chronically homeless, there are not a lot of resources for you to get out of homelessness.“
But agencies across the country have recognized that gap and the shelter system is trying to evolve to keep up with the changing demographic.
Fundraisers, like this Annual Women Helping Women event, have raised more than $1,000,000 to help fund a new women-only shelter, and women’s education training.
Influential women from the community have been coming together for more than 10 years to raise money and awareness.
Santelli says, “They bring four friends, and we raised funds to open a shelter for women. It evolved into supporting all the needs of women experiencing homelessness, housing support, education, employment and financial literacy.“
Tracy credits several staff members at area shelters with really working with her to make sure she was securing a solid future for her growing family.
The leading causes of homelessness also continue to evolve, including lack of affordable housing, mental illness, addiction, domestic violence and even the wage gap are all cited as some reasons women need shelters.
But more of these female centered shelters are helping women feel safe and secure and helping to minimize the negative stigma associated with homelessness.