Homelessness: Men vs. Women (and Children)

by Dena Leichnitz

Homelessness is a major problem not only in America but globally.  As I read the Telegraph, a UK publication, an article talking about how men suffer so greatly from homelessness and comparing them against homeless women as if women were homeless by themselves like men. Nowhere in the article did the word “children” come up. Even though women are more likely to be homeless with children than men are.  You cannot equate men and women in this manner because WHY they are homeless is not the same. And the vulnerabilities women face than men is not the same. Especially women with children. Speaking as a woman who is homeless with her child, I found the whole article a bit childish and whiny.  That being said, let’s look at why more men are homeless than women.

  1. More men are homeless because they are more prone to make poor decisions that will lead to homelessness than women.

Even Glen Poole, who wrote the UK article, wrote:

327 of the homeless people surveyed used crack/cocaine in the past month, 76 per cent of them were male;
355 of the homeless people surveyed used heroine in the past month, 77 per cent of them were male;
358 of the homeless people surveyed used methadone in the past month, 75 per cent of them were male;

crackSo if you are taking crack and heroin, is it not too surprising you would end up homeless?  There are so many reasons people end up homeless and a lot of the time, the circumstances are not under your control at all.  Some of those reasons might be rising rents, medical issues and job loss due to failing economy. Therefore,  wouldn’t it make sense given all the unforeseen circumstances that can lead you to ending up out on the streets that you do all on your part not end up homeless? While addiction is a complicated issue, we do know this much if you don’t take that first drink or take that first drug, you will not end up an alcoholic or drug addict.

77 per cent of the 1,248 homeless people surveyed who use drugs and alcohol to cope with mental health issues are men;
83 per cent of the 751 homeless people surveyed who say they used cannabis/weed in the past month are men;

mental illnessWhile mental illness is by no means a “poor decision” and comes with its own issues, we do know not everyone who is mentally uses drugs to cope and not everyone who uses drugs is mentally ill. In fact, mentally ill people, by and large, tend to avoid using drugs of any kind, legal or otherwise, because they feel drugs exacerbate their problems. Putting them in a state of mind that is even harder to control. Therefore, my statement about men being more prone to make poor decisions that lead homelessness than women still stands.

In fact, if we are too assume none of the men doing crack, heroin or on methadone are also mentally ill, then men being homeless would drop nearly 80 percent just by not doing drugs! And since doing illegal drugs is a choice, that makes homelessness for men almost 100 percent preventable.

2. Women are not homeless by themselves like men. And most of the resources women get are to help their children not just themselves.

This report on a study of 600 homeless men and 300 homeless women in St. Louis presents comparison data on these populations. The pivotal difference between homeless men and women was that unlike men, most women had young children in their custody (Emphasis mine) 

The study goes on to say: Compared to men, they [women] had less frequent histories of substance abuse, incarceration, and felony conviction.

Which just proves my point, women make less poor decisions that cause them to be homeless.  Women are more likely to be on welfare than men. Which means they are more likely to seek out assistance, go to the office, fill out the countless forms, wait in line for hours, talk to a representatives, get the documents needed to get assistance, and keep up with the appointments in order to maintain it. They do all that because it is not just about them, they do it to take care of their children.

13235489_10208401585549203_5456536628098343790_oSo if if seems there is more help for women than there is for men, it is because there are more people involved with helping women than there with men. This is not say there are no single men with custody of their kids fighting homelessness but just like single women are the rarity, so are men with their children. In facts, parents with children regardless of gender, should get a bigger portion of the resources because you are trying to save a child’s life in the process.  A single woman or man can fend for themselves much better than a single parent taking care of young children.

The study also states the following: The population of homeless women is therefore heterogeneous, with at least two subgroups. These groups are likely to benefit from intervention programs that are designed to address their specific problems and needs, which are notnecessarily the same as those of homeless men.

I am in a homeless shelter with children as young as four months old and a young man who just celebrated his 18th birthday and everyone in between. From young children, school age children, to those who are entering adulthood. We had one family who had eight children and then there are mothers like me with just one. It is not a one size fits all kind of thing.  With men, it is not as much as a case by case basis, as it is with women.

3.  Let’s be real, even when men need assistance they are less likely to seek it out than women are. My brother died in 2015 because he didn’t go to the hospital soon enough even though he knew he needed to see a doctor. How many stories have we heard like that?

drugs and alcoholIndeed, dozens of studies and surveys over the past several decades have shown that men of all ages and ethnicities are less likely than women to seek help for all sorts of problems–including depression, substance abuse and stressful life events–even though they encounter those problems at the same or greater rates as women.

While Greg Poole likes to think of that as a cop out for not helping men, we can’t help them if they don’t seek out assistance. How many times have you heard your friend say, “I really need to quit drinking” with a beer in his hand? Are we just supposed to force men to get help rather they want it or not? Maybe in some cases, like drunk driving, that would be acceptable, but in most cases that would be rather totalitarian.  What needs to change is the mindset that getting help is being weak, instead of blaming the services that are unable to reach them.

In conclusion, trying to compare male homelessness to female homelessness is disingenuous and resembles comparing apples to oranges.  Rather or not, you are male or female all homeless people need help and they all need help in different ways.  To say we should all give men more help then women without taking into account the children who are also homeless is absolutely heartless. Homelessness is not equal opportunity. It affects men, women and children in different ways. In the end, gender is not the issue, helping each person to the best of their ability get back on their feet as fast as possible is and we can’t do that worrying about stupid things like what is between a person’s legs instead of what is in their heart.

P.S. People in England and Australia, if you feel men are not getting help for their homelessness, try to figure out a way to come to America. I can vouch men get treated much better than women with children.


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