What’s It Like to Be an Unhoused Menstruator?

January 30, 2024

Being an unhoused menstruator presents a unique set of challenges that often go unnoticed in discussions surrounding homelessness. This article aims to shed light on the complexities of Period Poverty and its intersection with homelessness, questioning the efficacy of conventional solutions while advocating for systemic changes to address this overlooked issue. How do homeless women deal with periods? Let’s explore.

The Challenges of Homelessness for Women

According to data from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, homeless women typically accounted for around 30% of the total homeless population in the United States.

Unhoused women confront heightened dangers due to their vulnerable circumstances. These risks include:

  • Increased violence
  • Limited access to safe shelter
  • Health vulnerabilities
  • Exposure to the elements
  • Gender discrimination

With difficulties in maintaining hygiene, they face increased health risks. The cycle of homelessness is perpetuated by societal stigma, making it challenging to access support services. Mental health issues and susceptibility to human trafficking further exacerbate their predicament. 

How do Homeless Women Deal with Periods?

Homeless women navigate their menstrual cycles with limited resources and access. Many rely on shelters or charitable organizations for menstrual products, but the availability may be inconsistent.

Improvisation becomes common in the absence of proper facilities, resulting in many unhoused women using makeshift materials like tissues or socks. However, these improvised solutions pose hygiene risks and can lead to serious health issues.

Some women may resort to prioritizing other necessities over menstrual products due to financial constraints, further exacerbating the challenges. The lack of privacy and cleanliness in public spaces adds to the difficulties.

Period Poverty and Homelessness

Unhoused individuals face challenges in accessing menstrual products, exacerbating hygiene concerns and impacting overall well-being. The lack of proper menstrual hygiene can contribute to a loss of dignity and negatively impact mental health.

Graphic shows the definition of Period Poverty: limited or uncertain access to basic menstrual hygiene products due to financial constraints by Dignity Grows
Period Poverty is a phrase that encapsulates limited or uncertain access to basic menstrual hygiene products due to financial constraints. Menstrual products are generally sold at a high cost due to global supply chain challenges that contribute to shortages, and corporate pricing strategies that further contribute to the financial burden on unhoused menstruators. A common band-aid solution for Period Poverty and homeless women is to donate menstrual products to homeless shelters. While well-intentioned, this practice often falls short as a long-term solution, merely addressing immediate needs, and possibly creates a hygiene desert in the community. Though this is helpful in the short term, there is more that can be done.

Addressing Homelessness: Solutions That Work

With homelessness affecting people in virtually every area of the United States, it’s imperative for solutions to be sustainable rather than short-term. Here are two approaches to addressing homelessness effectively:

Housing-First Model for Addressing Homelessness

A housing-first model offers a transformative approach to alleviating both homelessness and period poverty. By prioritizing stable housing as the initial step, individuals gain a secure foundation for rebuilding their lives. This model addresses the root causes of homelessness, reducing the likelihood of recurring instability. With a stable home, access to hygienic facilities improves, alleviating some Period Poverty challenges. The model recognizes the interconnectedness of housing and menstrual health, emphasizing the importance of dignity and well-being. Implementing housing-first policies represents a crucial step toward breaking the cycle of homelessness and ensuring that individuals, including those facing Period Poverty, can rebuild their lives with stability and support.

Addressing the Root Causes of Homelessness

Tackling the root causes of homelessness involves addressing systemic issues to create lasting change. A comprehensive strategy begins by acknowledging the structural factors contributing to homelessness, such as lack of affordable housing, unemployment, and mental health challenges. Implementing a housing-first model is pivotal, offering stable shelter as a foundation. Concurrently, investing in mental health services, affordable housing initiatives, and employment opportunities addresses the underlying issues. Collaboration among policymakers, nonprofits, and communities is essential to create systemic change. By dismantling the structural barriers that perpetuate homelessness, we can pave the way for individuals to break free from the cycle and rebuild their lives with sustained support and dignity.
A quote from a Dignity Grows Tote Recipient

Systemic Changes

Collaboration between nonprofits, policymakers, educators, and advocates is crucial to dismantling systemic failures contributing to homelessness and addressing the unique challenges faced by unhoused menstruators.  Nonprofits and advocates contribute on-the-ground support and advocacy, ensuring that the voices of those experiencing homelessness are heard. Policymakers can enact legislation to integrate menstrual products into federal assistance programs, while educators play a crucial role in providing free products in educational institutions, removing barriers to learning. A comprehensive approach is essential, emphasizing a holistic strategy that meets immediate needs while tackling root causes. By fostering a united effort, these stakeholders can collectively challenge societal stigmas, improve access to resources, and work towards dismantling long-standing failures, creating a more inclusive and supportive environment for individuals experiencing homelessness, including unhoused menstruators.

How to Help Unhoused Women Facing Period Poverty

It is imperative to recognize the intricate challenges faced by unhoused menstruators and move beyond temporary solutions. By challenging the efficacy of current practices, addressing the high costs of menstrual products, and advocating for systemic changes, we can work towards a more inclusive and compassionate society that prioritizes the well-being of all, regardless of housing status. Our hygiene totes contain menstrual supplies and other hygienic necessities to give homeless women the dignity they deserve. You can help alleviate anxiety for unhoused women and girls by donating to Dignity Grows today.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do homeless women deal with periods?

Homeless women often face challenges managing periods due to limited access to sanitary products, clean facilities, and privacy. They may rely on shelters, charitable organizations, or improvised solutions like using makeshift materials. The lack of resources can impact their hygiene, health, and overall well-being, highlighting the need for comprehensive support systems to address Period Poverty within the homeless population.

What percent of US homeless are women?

Homeless women are estimated to make up approximately 30% of the total homeless population in the United States. Though they are the minority in the unhoused population, homeless women face unique challenges and vulnerabilities that require targeted support and attention.

Who does Period Poverty affect the most?

Period Poverty affects women across the United States of varying socioeconomic status. To learn more about the most recent studies on Period Poverty in the US, read “The National Research Initiative on Period Poverty,” a comprehensive study powered by Dignity Grows.