THE HOMELESS: AN OVERLOOKED POPULATION WHERE CRITICAL GEOGRAPHY AND INTERSECTIONAL FEMINISM MEET
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Part 1 – Abstract & Our History
Part 2 – Critical Geography & Intersectional Feminism
Part 3 – Current Literature
Part 5 – Analysis, Conclusion, Discussion
LITERATURE REVIEW: Current Literature on Homelessness
Though poverty and discrimination together push people into homelessness, these factors do not impact people in the same ways. Discrimination against women, nonwhites, and LGBT do have underlying similarities but also have profound differences. The forms of sexism that push poor women into homelessness are domestic violence, the greater likelihood of women to be poor, and the pay gap. Many forms of institutional racism such as poor housing, mortgage scams, unemployment, the racial pay gap, and the school to prison pipeline assault poor nonwhites. Poor LGBT suffer many health and psychological problems stemming from the prejudice and discrimination they face, the most brutal being cast out from their homes by friends and family.
Sexism and Homelessness
In January 2012, The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless conducted a meta analysis of previous studies about homeless women throughout America, citing four major reasons why women become homeless: domestic violence, poverty, wage inequality, and lack of affordable housing. Close to 100% of homeless women were domestically abused. Between 22% and 57% said domestic violence was the immediate cause of their homelessness. N. J. Sokoloff, in his 2005 review of domestic violence literature throughout America, “Domestic Violence at the Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender”, states that abuse of women is more likely to be found among impoverished African Americans and young, unemployed urban residents. Among Latinos, a group often alongside blacks in poverty, men are frequently socialized to be macho and domineering, which increases the likelihood of abuse of women.
Furthermore, poor women do not have the same resources as middle class women. Poor women who flee abusers have family members who are less capable of accommodating them and supporting them. Unlike middle class women, poor women have fewer women shelters and lower quality women’s shelters. Poverty creates isolation whether in the distant country or inner city, and this includes isolation from government services. Nonwhite women may face other obstacles. Latina women, for instance, do not report their abusers because they are raised to be nurturing and submissive. Disclosing their abusers to outsiders (non-Latinos) violates their gender role and can even be interpreted as a form of race treachery. Latina women who are illegal immigrants choose not disclose information about themselves or their abusers to clinics because they fear they may face “legal problems, loss or services, or deportation.”
Women are more likely to be in poverty than men, especially in deep poverty. Of all Americans living in poverty in 2012, 55% were women. The number of poor women even increased from 2009 to 2011 while the number of poor men decreased. The wage gap profoundly influences women’s economic status and is a major contributor to women’s poverty. Nationally women only have 36% of men’s wealth. In 2010 white women earned 77 cents to a white man’s dollar. Black women earned only 63 cents to a white man’s dollar. Women consistently earned less than men in all fields except lower paying jobs.
Kimberle Crenshaw’s landmark 1991 intersectional analysis of battered women of color, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color”, points in a similar direction. Crenshaw observed that domestic violence is higher among nonwhites, who tend to be poorer. Consequently, more poor, nonwhite women will be homeless than middle class white women. In addition, nonwhite women are less likely to speak English, which decreases their likelihood of being accepted at a women’s shelter as women’s shelters are less likely to admit women who do not speak English. Even middle class women typically have few places to go, a fact that is amplified for poor women, women with few resources. As a result, poor women who flee abusive relationships must often go to the streets. Poor women often cannot access assisted housing and women’s shelters because they have to wait on a long list and, since they are so full, shelters must turn away many women.
Homelessness is not a sudden crash but a gradual downward spiral for both men and women, though women tend to encounter sexism in their spiral downwards. In 2010, Deborah Fingfeld-Connet from the University of Missouri conducted an investigation on the experiences of homeless women by conducting a meta analysis of over six thousand studies of homeless women in the United States and Western countries, titled “Becoming Homeless, Being Homeless, and Resolving Homelessness Among Women.” She concluded that homeless women grew up in very toxic environments that left them ill- equipped to deal with the world as health adults. Homeless women had to deal with hardships common with homeless men such as domestic violence, negligence, poverty, poor mental health, and substance abuse. Homeless women also encountered additional problems in their childhoods usually unique to women such as increased financial instability, lower self-esteem, and sexual abuse. In adolescence and adulthood, homeless women encountered more burdens usually unique to women such as pregnancies, STDs, and childcare.
As the Coalition For the Homeless showed in their census of New York City’s homeless population from 1983 to 2016, families, not single adults, make up the majority of the homeless population, and most of those families consist of women and children. Just as many poor women are saddled with childrearing before they become homeless, a factor that economically disempowers them and increases their chances of being homeless, many homeless women are heavily burdened in taking care of their homeless families. This perpetuates the patriarchal gender roles women faced before their homelessness and makes it harder for both homeless women and children to leave homelessness.
In 2001, Ralph Nunez examined a case study from a survey conducted by the Institute for Children and Poverty. He surveyed 350 homeless families in New York City, including 600 children, titling his work, “Family Homelessness in New York City: A Case Study”, and also conducted an analyses of the survey itself. A single mother typically raises homeless children, with the father usually absent. The mother usually receives public assistance and often suffers cuts in benefits such as welfare and Medicaid. About 21% of homeless women become homeless after losing their benefits. 10% of homeless women find a job but only 40% of them manage to keep it. Homeless mothers often emotionally neglect their children because of the nomadic lifestyle they lead. Homeless mothers spend a lot of time obtaining resources so the family to survive. Homeless children are more likely to suffer from physical and mental illnesses, remain sick for longer, and lack education, perpetuating a vicious cycle of homelessness.
Homeless women experience sexism in other ways that hinder their chances of leaving homelessness. One such example is the sexism young homeless girls in Canada experience at school, hindering their education. In 2011, Dhillon Jaskiran contributed to the journal Feminist Formations with his study “Social Exclusion, Gender, and Access to Education in Canada: Narrative Accounts from Girls on the Street.” He based an exploratory study of the intersection between social exclusion, gender, and access to education by documenting the research and interviews he conducted on young women and girls living in poverty and experiencing homelessness in Canada. Though the girls highly valued their education, they stressed their attention to more pressing and basic needs, such as escaping violent parents, finding a safe place to live, and accessing food and health care. The girls felt deeply alienated from the education system, seeing themselves as “living property”. Both school staff and peers labeled and stigmatized the girls for their backgrounds, saying they had limited intellectual ability. Most troubling was how the girls’ sexual histories haunted them in school. Teachers and students stigmatized the girls for their sexual histories through slut shaming and were sexually harassed by male teachers who took advantage of their vulnerability and of their reputations as “sluts”. The girls strongly felt they needed access to female teachers since they experienced a lot of male violence in their pasts.
Racism and Homelessness
Among nonwhites, systemic racism is a constant and malevolent power structure that harms them socially and economically, with systemic racism drastically increasing their chances of being homeless. The literature that connects racism and poverty is so enormous only a small portion can be realistically included in this thesis. Historically, nonwhites have always been oppressed in many forms, whether through discrimination or outright slavery, resulting in a near permanent underclass. The most prevalent modern forms of systemic racism are in housing, imprisonment, and street violence, all of which massively contribute to homelessness. These forms of systemic racism are not unique to poor nonwhites, but they do hit them much harder. Often systemic racism directly influences nonwhite people’s housing and employment opportunities. Any person who cannot get housing or employment runs a significant risk of becoming homeless. Both disadvantages in housing and employment together arguably hit nonwhite people to a greater and more consistent degree than any other discriminated group.
The largest modern housing and mortgage crisis for nonwhites took place during the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, and it still casts its shadow on the present day. Robert Fairbanks’ academic book, “The War on Slums in the Southwest”, chronicles the development of the housing projects in Southwest America, which was similar to project developments throughout the country. After World War II, upper and middle class people increasingly left the city for the suburbs. American inner cities had already declined for a long time by that point; inventions such as automobiles allowed people to live in homes farther from the inner city. Urban planners and other bureaucrats had modernist visions of a reborn city that catered to the aspirations and needs of upper and middle class people, usually white, while the needs of lower class people, consisting of many nonwhites, were an afterthought.
Thus, the urban planners demolished the slums, the homes of many nonwhite people, and placed them in housing projects. These reforms were plagued with racism throughout. Poor nonwhites were given rushed, substandard public housing, as opposed to poor whites. Afterwards, urban planners neglected to maintain the projects, which soon became dilapidated, and created a welfare system that forced poor nonwhites to submit to crushing regulations just to live there. As Mary Patillo observed in her 2007 analysis of substandard housing in the projects in “Black on the Block”, a combination of mortgage scams and poor zoning laws hit poor nonwhites hard, making it ever more difficult for them to live in any decent house, or any house at all. Poor zoning laws resulted in negligent to disastrous treating of the projects, leading to such terrible outcomes as highways cutting straight through inner communities and preventing the building of more necessary apartments. Real estate owners would refuse to sell homes to nonwhites or allow them to take mortgages for a home in fear of their homes losing their property value.
Pettit and Western from the University of Washington and Princeton University combined administrative, survey, and cenues data to examine the racial inequalities in the U.S. Prison population in their 2004 study, “Mass Imprisonment and the Life Courses: Race and Class Inequality in U.S. Incarceration.” The school to prison pipeline is closely related to poverty and homelessness, especially in terms of poor education, and the lack of housing and employment opportunities for ex-prisoners. Wealthier nonwhites are more likely to dodge such a treacherous downward spiral, avoiding the slim economic opportunities and the dangerous, volatile life of poverty that push so many nonwhites into crime. Prison itself erodes a person’s ability to live in society as a normal, financially independent person. It isolates the person from his family and work connections.
Homelessness is usually more than just a material condition of not owning a house. It is a state of mind and lifestyle that prevents people from functioning in society as mature, independent adults. Prison time severely damages a person’s ability to reintegrate into society, as Rodriguez and Brown from The Vera Institute observed in their 2003 report on literature about recently released inmates from New York City’s prisons in “Preventing Homelessness Among People Leaving Prison.” Ex-prisoners earn lower wages and are less likely to be employed. They are less likely to get married or stay present within their families, and are more likely to lose welfare benefits and voting rights. Upon release, ex-prisoners often return to the communities they came from, where persistent poverty limits their opportunities for jobs and affordable housing. Statistical evidence links prison time to homelessness. In 2003, up to 20% of newly released New York City prisoners were homeless or had unstable housing conditions. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, 30% to 50% of people under parole supervision were homeless.
Race also contributes to homelessness among ex-convicts because people who leave prison have trouble finding employment because of their criminal record. Dr. Nicholas Freudenberg from the Urban Public Health Department of Hunter College and his colleagues surveyed nearly two thousand people leaving New York City Jail between 1997 and 2004, reporting their findings in “Characteristics of People Leaving New York City Jails by Age, Gender, and Race/Ethnicity”. They concluded that most convicts were black and Hispanic/Latino who had high rates of substance abuse, high rates of being repeat offenders, and had difficult living circumstances. Ironically, while more ex-convict women tended to be homeless than men, men had much bigger issues with finding employment and education. Imprisonment is one of the many pieces of the systemic racism that contributes to poor nonwhite people becoming homeless.
Imprisonment contributes to homelessness by creating an entire dimension of marginalization from mainstream society, troubles with employment scratching only the surface. In 2012 Megha Ramaswamy from the University of Kansas School of Medecine and Nicholas Freudenberg from Hunter College wrote the article, ”The Cycle of Social Exclusion For Urban, Young Men of Color in the United States: What Is the Role of Incarceration?”. The authors gathered longitudinal data from one set of interviews with 397 men aged 16 to 18 in a New York City jail and another set of interviews taken of the same young men a year later. The authors discovered that while incarceration did not disconnect the young men directly, it caused the young men to have unstable housing, which then led to disconnectedness and social exclusion. As previous research shows, unstable housing is also a major factor in homelessness and many homeless people are isolated and excluded from mainstream society, including all the benefits mainstream society provides.
The authors extrapolated that the black and Latino ex-convicts were twice as disconnected as the white ex-convicts. For both blacks and Latinos, the doors of education, equitable housing, and neighborhood integration were closed. For blacks, their lack of opportunities stemmed from centuries of segregation and urban dislocation. For Latinos, their lack of opportunities stemmed from their immigration status and their marginalization from public schools and other mainstream institutions. The authors grouped higher disconnection to many other systemically racist ills such as more instances of arrest and incarceration, less legal employment, lack of education, violence and lack of safety in schools, and a lower graduation rate. The authors explicitly described a “school-to-jail pipeline” in their findings and blamed poor policies in education, the war on drugs, and the tightening of welfare policies as three major factors.
Yet another study confirms that stigma and racial discrimination are correlated with indicators of homelessness. In 2016, Maurice Gattis and Andrea Larson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison combined a cross-sectional research design with structured interviews of 89 black homeless youth aged 16-24 years in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. They concluded that the depressive symptoms many of the youth experienced were closely associated with both racial discrimination and homelessness. Racial discrimination and homelessness were both chronic forms of stress that erode mental health. They were two forms of chronic stress that affected the mental health of black homeless youth. The authors recommended that policies addressing black homeless adolescents should address racial discrimination, a lack of safe housing, and mental health.
Heteronormativity and Homelessness
Unlike the literature on race and gender, the literature on LGBT people and homelessness is not as large. This could be because awareness of LGBT as a civil rights is very new. LGBT rights did not really enter mainstream discourse until the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, while the discourses on women and nonwhite civil rights are older. Also, the literature on LGBT people and homelessness focuses almost exclusively on homeless youth, and not a broader population of LGBT people. In 2009, Albelda Randy and her colleagues from the Williams Institute issued a national report on LGBT poverty in “Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community.” LGBT people are more likely to live in poverty than straight people for a number of reasons including employment discrimination, exclusion from marriage, and lack of health insurance coverage. They are less likely to receive family support (the isolation of poverty again), and face family conflict about “coming out”. Randy’s statistics point in a similar direction: 24% of lesbian and bisexual women are poor compared to 19% of straight women. 6.9% of lesbian couples are poor compared to 5.4% of straight couples and 4% of gay couples. One out of five children with LGBT parents lives in poverty compared to only one out of ten children with straight parents.
In 2006, Nicholas Ray of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force described LGBT youth being rejected by their families as among many other factors causing homelessness, in the nationwide report “An Epidemic of Homelessness”. Families who refuse to accept LGBT people’s sexuality often cast them out, which is a major contribution to LGBT homelessness. Again, LGBT people are more likely to be poor than straight people. As with racism and sexism, the blows that make LGBT people poor are often the same blows that drive them to homelessness if they are not poor already. 50% of gay males faced negative parental reaction when coming out with 26% of gay males told to leave the home.
As discussed earlier, domestic violence is more common in poor households than middle class households. This means most LGBT youth (and adults) who have been expelled from their homes already lived in poverty to begin with. It is not outlandish to believe that poor families are less likely to accept non-straight sexual orientation than middle class families, as poverty decreases educational opportunities and likewise breeds ignorance. In addition, LGBT homeless youth face much greater stigma and health risks compared to heterosexual homeless youth, as Maurice Gattis concluded in his 2013 study of homeless youth in “An Ecological Systems Comparison Between Homeless Sexual Minority Youths and Homeless Heterosexual Youths.” After conducting structured interviews and bivariate analysis of risk and protective outcomes between LGBT homeless youths and heterosexual homeless youth, he concluded that LGBT youth are more likely to have mental health problems, before and after homelessness, and engage in unhealthy sexual practices.
The problems observed by Gattis can be traced back to the discrimination LGBT youth face and the stigma that still shrouds their sexuality. According to Gattis’ study, they experience more stigmas for being homeless than straight youth as well as exacerbated problems homeless youth everywhere face, including suicide, substance abuse, and risky sexual practices. LGBT youth had worse symptoms of depression than straight youth. 42% of LGBT youth seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months, 27% made a plan for suicide, 27% attempted suicide, and 15% injured themselves while attempting suicide. Among straight youth, 12% seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months, 11% made a plan for suicide, 8% attempted suicide, and 2% incurred themselves while attempting suicide. LGBT youth were also more likely to engage in unhealthy sexual practices. 44% of LGBT youth had survival sex throughout their lives, 69% had anal sex, 42% had sex with a prostitute, and 34% had sex with an IV drug user. Among straight youth, 9% had survival sex throughout their lives, 25% had anal sex, 13% had sex with a prostitute, and 8% had sex with an IV drug user.
Dating violence is very prevalent among LGBT youth and a major cause of mental disorders. Abuse and mental disorders both are large factors in causing homelessness for many people. In 2013, researchers Meredith Dank and her colleagues conducted research for the Journal of Youth Adolescence, titled “Dating Violence Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth”. The authors employed a cross-sectional research design, using a survey of thousands of 7th-12th grade youth in 10 schools in New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. They discovered that LGBT youth experienced all types of dating violence and abuse more than their heterosexual counterparts, including physical dating violence, psychological dating abuse, cyber dating abuse, and sexual coercion.
Sometimes the stigma and abuse LGBT people face goes hand in hand with drugs and crime. In 2011, Danielle Ompad and her colleagues from the New York Academy of Medicine, University of Columbia, and the National Development and Research Institutes researched the health and drug habits of lesbian women. They titled their research, “HIV Risk Behaviors Among Young Drug Using Women Who Have Sex With Women in New York City”. The authors selected participants already recruited for two studies of non-injection drug users to complete a standardized questionnaire detailing the risks in their behaviors. Their results revealed that women who have sex with women (WSW) were more likely to be homeless, make income illegally such as selling drugs, and more likely to have been to prison than women who had sex with men only (WSMO). WSWs started having sex younger (often before 15), more often traded sex for money and drugs, and were four times more likely to have been shot than WSMOs. WSW also had fewer resources and were discriminated against in welfare policies. 83% of WSW were attacked for their sexuality. Stigma and crime are both related to homelessness in that both marginalize LGBT people, disconnecting and isolating them from mainstream society.
When taken together, all the aforementioned literature provides a consistent message. Poverty combined with discrimination increases the risk of homelessness, with discrimination acting as a catalyst that pushes a poor person, already in a precarious condition, over the edge. It also bears noting that the same forms of discrimination that makes a person poor to begin with also push them over the edge into homelessness. Women tend to be poorer than men – poverty wears a woman’s face – because of sexism such as fewer economic opportunities and the pay gap. Those same poor women then become homeless because of sexism in the form of domestic violence. Nonwhite people are significantly poorer than white people, in large part because of systemic racism in its many forms. The same systemic racism that isolates them in dilapidated neighborhoods, denies them job opportunities, and lands them in prison, later puts them in homeless shelters. LGBT people are more likely to be poor than straight people because of the stigma surrounding their sexuality. It is that same stigma that exacerbates the suffering of poor LGBT people, either in them being rejected by their families or having unhealthy sexual practices on the streets.
 “The Characteristics of Homeless Women,” 1-2.
 N.J. Sokoloff, “Domestic Violence at the Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender: Challenges and Contributions to Understanding Violence Against Marginalized Women in Diverse Communities,” Violence Against Women 11 (2005): 51.
 Sokoloff, “Domestic Violence at the Intersections of Race, Class, and Gender,” 48-51.
 “The Characteristics of Homeless Women,” 1.
 Ibid., 1-2.
 Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins,” 1263-1265.
 “Domestic Violence and Homelessness.” National Coalition for the Homeless, accessed April 27, 2016, 1, http://www.nationalhomeless.org/publications/facts/domestic.pdf.
 Deborah Finfgeld-Connet, Becoming Homeless, Being Homeless, and Resolving Homelessness Among Women,” Issues in Mental Health Nursing 31 (2010): 463.
 Ralph Nunez, “Family Homelessness in New York City: A Case Study,” Political
Science Quarterly 116 (2001): 367-68.
 Ibid., 373-76.
 Jaskiran Dhillon, Social Exclusion, Gender, and Access to Education in Canada: Narrative Accounts from Girls on the Street,” Feminist Formations 23(2011): 128.
 Dhillon” “Social Exclusion, Gender, and Access to Education in Canada,” 121-123.
 Robert B. Fairbanks, The War on Slums in the Southwest: Public Housing and Slum Clearance in Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico, 1935-1965 (Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2014).
 William J. Wilson, More than Just Race: Being Black and Poor in the Inner City (New York, NY: Norton & Company, 2009), 28-9
 Mary Patillo, Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 35.
 B. Pettit and B. Western, “Mass Imprisonment and the Life Course: Race and Class Inequality in U.S. Incarceration.” American Sociological Review 69 (2004), 152 and 155.
 Pettit and Western, “”Mass Imprisonment and the Life Course,” 155.
 Nicholas Freudenberg et al., “Comparison of Health and Social Characteristics of People Leaving New York City Jails by Age, Gender, and Race/Ethnicity: Implications for Public Health Interventions,” Department of Urban Public Health, Hunter College 122 (2007): 735-39.
 Megha Ramaswamy and Nicholas Freudenberg, “The Cycle of Social Exclusion for Urban, Young Men of Color in the United States: What Is the Role of Incarceration?”, Journal of Poverty 16 (2012): 119-46, 125-29.
 Maurice N. Gattis and Andrea Larson, “Perceived Racial, Sexual Identity, and Homeless Status-related Discrimination among Black Adolescents and Young Adults Experiencing Homelessness: Relations with Depressive Symptoms and Suicidality,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 86, (2016): 82-86.
 Randy Albelda et al., Poverty in the Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Community (Los Angeles, CA: Williams Institute UCLA School of Law, 2009), 1.
 Maurice Gattis, “An Ecological Systems Comparison Between Homeless Sexual Minority Youths and Homeless Heterosexual Youths,” Journal of Social Service Research 39 (2013), 5.
 Gattis, “Ecological Systems Comparison,” 5.
 Meredith Dank et al., “Dating Violence Experiences of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth,” Journal of Youth and Adolescence 43 (2013), 851-54.
 Danielle C. Ompad et al., “HIV Risk Behaviors Among Young Drug Using Women Who Have Sex With Women (WSWs) in New York City,” Substance Use & Misuse 46 (2011), 277-78.