Old, female, and homeless

It’s an article on San Francisco, but it’s about every city in the US, too; including Madison.

In San Francisco, there’s drop-in center just for women:

Located in the Mission District, the drop-in center is basically two large adjoining rooms, the otherwise bare walls brightened by a single big-screen TV. When I visited Oshun, I found a diverse group of forty-five women, each sitting or sleeping in a chair surrounded by her belongings. Some had old suitcases with broken zippers, while others had stuffed their things into ripped garbage bags. The lucky ones found a spot near a wall. They’d at least be able to rest their heads by putting a blanket against the wall behind them. The rest had no choice but to let their heads hang.

Yet what choices do older homeless women have? Despite a spike in older homeless clients, says O’Connor of the St. Anthony Foundation, there are still precious few services to help women like Marcia and Dorothy. “If you’re a homeless woman, you’re guaranteed to be assaulted on the streets,” said Paul Boden, organizing director of the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP), a West Coast coalition of homeless organizations. Boden, who was homeless himself at 16 after the death of his mother, also served as executive director of the city’s Coalition on Homelessness. “Women try to double up with guys to be safe, but they usually get beaten up by those guys, so their options are limited.”

One of the regulars at Oshun is an Argentine woman named Zulema. She’s a 65-year-old who, when I met her, had been sleeping in the plastic chairs there for six years. “I stayed in shelters for four months, but the process is inefficient and I never felt safe,” she said. “The shelters are very bad for women, especially older women.” She told me she had become accustomed to sleeping sitting up on hard plastic. “You have no control of your life at the shelter,” she said. “At Oshun, I can come and go.”

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