SAN BERNARDINO – San Bernardino County is the first county in the United States to address the issue of homelessness among unaccompanied woman officials said. With over 100,000 homeless women in the United States, more than both homeless youth and veterans combined, the County of San Bernardino officials decided that it was time to focus on this, often forgotten group.
In the most recent Point in Time Count, 284 homeless women were counted in San Bernardin county, 25% unsheltered, and around 33% were chronically homeless (homeless for 1 year or longer). “This number pales in comparison to reality, due to many of these homeless women being hidden or just not located. “All had a dream for themselves when they were little girls, it [the dream] just somehow fell out of their reach,” said Fifth District Supervisor Josie Gonzales.
County officials after attempting to work on the issue of homelessness as a whole, collected data, leading to the realization that one subpopulation at a time should be focused on in order to achieve a reduction in homelessness. Using this approach, the ultimate goal would be to one day abolish homelessness altogether. Previously, the county has focused on homeless veterans, which has been successful. While they continue to, along with other organizations, provide wraparound services for the identified veterans, they will now be focusing on unaccompanied women. Due to the success of service referral to those identified as veterans during the previous Point in Time counts, this model will again be used in order to provide services to unaccompanied women at the Point in Time counts January 2018. During the count, they count all of the homeless individuals located and collect data in order to plan future goals and in order to request federal funding.
For 2018, the county is shifting the focus to unaccompanied women, meaning women without a companion and without children. County officials agreed that it is nearly impossible to count all, meaning the numbers are lower than the actual numbers. During, the PIT Plus — Point In Time Count Plus, those counting, when finding an unaccompanied woman will direct her to be transported to a place where she could learn about services available to her and be matched with the support needed to get her through the sometimes difficult process. The county is working to create permanent supportive housing, placing this subpopulation in housing, using the Housing First model.
During a three-day educational event, taking place from November 15, 2017, to November 17, 2017, named “1 in 4 Third National Colloquy on Unaccompanied Women”, over 150 people attended from numerous San Bernardino County offices, as well as non-profit organizations serving the homeless population. The event included local, international, and national speakers who either attended in person or via internet video calling. The wealth of knowledge brought to the University of Redlands Orton Conference Center by representatives of countries who have studied the phenomenon for many years and collected data including those explaining what led up to unaccompanied women becoming homeless was astonishing. Unaccompanied women account for over 25% of those homeless in San Bernardino County, with several data sets showing the numbers possibly being up to 40%.
The stigma of homelessness makes it difficult for those homeless, especially women, to find and receive the support needed through their local community. Resources are available, but the usually specified areas of service each department or agency offers makes it difficult to navigate without hearing several “no” answers prior to receiving the services needed. As a homeless individual, this becomes frustrating as they attempt to only survive living on the streets, dodging dangerous situations, theft, and for many women; sexual and/or physical abuse. Experts from all logistical areas and areas of service came to the conclusion that most of these women became homeless as a result of trauma, violence, and/or abuse. These women, who were already vulnerable as a result of past trauma, during childhood and/or adulthood, in very many ways have become part of the most vulnerable group. According to collected data, the top cause of homelessness among women is abuse consisting of physical, mental, and/or sexual; some being past or present victims of human trafficking. “These women, were girls that our system somehow missed,” said Homeless Policy Advisor Kent Paxton.
Living day-to-day on the streets, even more than other subpopulations are forced to focus on survival and after time goes on many lose faith that permanent housing is even a future possibility. Only around half of homeless women have completed High School and most have a minimal employment history, which makes gainful employment highly unlikely without additional education and/or training. The majority are in their early-40’s with mental or physical health issues, some receiving Social Security payments. The problem with the low income, such as welfare or social security is the amount received is not enough to pay rent, bills, and to stay fed based on the cost of living.
More than one homeless woman dies each month in San Bernardino County on average based on statistics collected in the last 5.5 years. The largest groups of these women died of “natural causes”, which can include a drug overdose and the second largest was those involved in a traffic-related injury/death, including vehicle versus pedestrian, train versus pedestrian, or other similar incidents.
Those who attended the 1 in 4 Third National Colloquy on Unaccompanied Women, were educated from data, video clips, and information from those who have studied or otherwise have knowledge of homelessness. In addition, on November 16, 2017, the group learned about resources available to provide shelter, housing and health care for unaccompanied women. The group then broke up into three smaller groups, where they learned about Trauma-Informed Care for Unaccompanied Homeless Women, Effective Case Management for unaccompanied Homeless Women, or Advancing and Advocacy Agenda for Unaccompanied Homeless Women. On the final day, a portion of the original group will be transported via charter bus to the Downtown Women’s Center in Los Angeles.
This training, according to County of San Bernardino officials, is only the beginning of the education offered to those working within the community to assist those who are homeless and those in danger of becoming homeless. The ongoing Homeless Provider Network and Interagency Council on Homelessness meetings will continue, with an additional focus working toward the goal to end homelessness among Unaccompanied Homeless Women by their 2020 goal.
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