On Any Given Night

On any given night, 882 unaccompanied (single) women are experiencing homelessness in the District of Columbia. Think about it: in DC nearly 900 women will be alone, homeless, and often hopeless tonight while we sleep in our warm, cozy beds in our homes. 

Recognizing that the experiences of these women differ from those of men or of women in families, the DC Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) Women’s Task Force, together with The Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP), led the first‐ever survey research project to gain a deeper understanding of the characteristics, experiences and needs of these unaccompanied women who are homeless. The women’s community including women’s homeless services providers, victim’s services providers, advocates, and a range of other stakeholders engaged in the design and implementation of this project. Highlighting the trauma and violence faced by women, the 2017 DC Women’s Needs Assessment Report will inform policy and resource planning by the District’s ICH. 

NEW’s executive director, Wanda Steptoe, co-chairs the Women’s Task Force with Kris Thompson, Executive Director of Calvary Women’s Services. The two women’s housing organizations – NEW and Calvary – have been working together over the years due to their similar missions of serving homeless women.

“Nothing is going to happen overnight,” Wanda says. “Most things don’t happen overnight but the information is there, we have the data, so how can we move forward? What can we do to ensure that women are better served with regard to accessing services and being placed?”

The report comes up with answers to those questions and made recommendations to DC’s ICH. The ICH is a group of cabinet-level leaders, providers of homeless services, advocates, homeless and formerly homeless leaders that come together to inform and guide the District’s strategies and policies for meeting the needs of individuals and families who are homeless or at imminent risk of becoming homeless in the District of Columbia.

Some of the report’s findings:

  • Black/African American women make up the largest share of women who are homeless (75%), a rate disproportionate to the DC population where they are only 52% of the adult women. This statistic ties to the National Women’s Law Center’s work showing that African American women in DC also experience the highest rates of poverty (25.9%) as compared to women overall (18.2%).
  • The median age of women is 52 years; women at the higher end of the age range face greater barriers for securing income through employment, with half or less currently looking for and/or applying for jobs.
  • Approximately 20% of women identified as LGBQ+. This rate is high when considering that the total LGBTQ population in DC is 10.7%. The survey did not include a question about gender identity, but was designed to capture information from any person who identifies as a woman and experiences homeless services as a woman regardless of sex at birth and from those who were unsure or questioning their gender identity.
  • Almost one‐quarter (24%) of the women surveyed are unsheltered or in unsafe housing. While there are women across all ages not currently in homeless or domestic violence programs, the highest rates are among young women under 24 or senior women over 62.
  • Women are experiencing high rates of chronic homelessness with 72% having been without housing for a year or longer or having had a least four episodes of housing loss in last three years.

Read the entire report. Read the executive summaryRecommendations of the Task Force to ICH

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It’s been a challenging time for all of us as we adjust our days, our budgets and our expectations to COVID-19. And now, add a city and country grasping for footing after the death of an unarmed black man by a white police officer and we all feel even more out of control, unstable, and concerned about the future. Here at NEW we know that one way we can process our own feelings is to think about the needs and feelings of others.

We need you. The women need you. Your community needs you. Now more than ever women and children in DC need a safe and stable place to live.