Poverty Lab, Health Lab Sarah's Circle
One in four adults experiencing homelessness in the United States is a single woman, many of whom are middle aged or older. Women face unique challenges when experiencing homelessness and often have different underlying causes of housing instability than men. However, there is a lack of basic information and research on their demographics, needs, and preferences for services, which has hindered efforts to develop tailored resources to help them. In fact, as recently as 2014 the annual report that the federal government provides to Congress on the state of homelessness did not even cite the number of women experiencing homelessness nationally.
Sarah’s Circle, an organization that serves women who are homeless or in need of a safe space in Chicago, is a leader in the 1 in 4 Initiative, a national collaborative effort to research and advocate for dedicated policies and programs to help women experiencing homelessness. In 2017, the Poverty and Health Labs partnered with Sarah’s Circle to conduct a survey to learn more about the needs of their clients. The survey collected detailed information on the women’s background characteristics and their lived experiences accessing housing, employment, and healthcare services. The women shared information on barriers that they have faced to accessing services, as well as their preferences for types of services they find helpful. Sarah’s Circle intends to use the findings from this survey to improve and expand their own programming, and also share the results with policymakers, practitioners, and other stakeholders at the local and national level to raise awareness about the needs of women experiencing homelessness.
According to the women responding to the survey, one of the key barriers that they face is accessing permanent housing: more than half of Sarah’s Circle clients experiencing homelessness had been on a waitlist for permanent housing for more than a year, and almost one in four reported having been on a waitlist for more than five years. Conversely, almost all clients, regardless of housing status, reported having access to health insurance and primary care providers (primarily through the receipt of Medicaid), and were satisfied with the quality of services they received. Some commonly cited barriers to finding employment included not having access to viable transportation or not meeting stated educational requirements. For some of the women, particularly older clients who are near retirement age, personal physical and mental health conditions present challenges to finding employment, but are not sufficiently severe for them to be considered eligible for federal disability benefits.
To learn more about the experiences of Sarah’s Circle clients, please view the below report.Sarah's Circle Needs Assessment: Understanding the lived experiences of clients in their own words