Business & Economy

Homeless women’s needs are not being met in Los Angeles County, report finds

Homeless women sit amid their belongings in downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 1, 2014.
Homeless women sit amid their belongings in downtown Los Angeles on Jan. 1, 2014.
Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

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As Los Angeles County embarks on a massive effort to reduce homelessness, a new report calls on lawmakers to take into account the specific needs of homeless women. 

The number of homeless women in the county has risen dramatically over the past few years to nearly 18,000 as of the most recent count, conducted in January. Homelessness is on the rise among all demographics, but the rise in the number of homeless women has left questions about how a service system that's historically served more men than women has adjusted to new realities. 

"Because of the sheer number of women, we wanted to be making sure that services are responsive to their needs," said Sarah Mahin, director of policy and planning at the L.A. Homeless Services Authority and member of the Ad Hoc Committee on Women & Homelessness, which authored the report.

One clear deficiency is the lack of year-round shelter beds available to women. According to the report, countywide, only 17 percent of shelter beds are available, year-round, to women – though women represent over 30 percent of the homeless population. Service Planning Area 3, which covers the San Gabriel Valley, only has seven year-round beds available to women. 

Women on the streets and in shelters also have different causes for their homelessness. The report identified poor health, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, and high rates of poverty among older women as particularly significant issues that contribute to women becoming homeless—and impact them once they're on the streets. Nearly half of women report experiencing violence while homeless. 

As with other demographics, the increases in women who are homeless have been most dramatic in East Los Angeles and the Antelope Valley. 

Mahin said considering unique population needs is particularly important as L.A. County starts spending funds from Measure H, a sales tax hike that's expected to start raising $355 million a year for homeless services when it kicks in October 1. 

Some changes have already been made. 

"There were things that were very simple," Mahin said. "Like in our shelter contracts, requiring providers to provide feminine hygiene products."

Funding for things like more shelter beds for women has been included in the roll-out for Measure H funds. 

Other changes will require a lengthier timeline, like training staff at the various nonprofit service providers around the county in how to handle questions about domestic violence, gender identity, and sexual trafficking. 

The committee also identified a need for further research, not much of which has been done, on the unique needs of women who are placed in permanent supportive housing, from security issues to common spaces. 

Read the full report here