Since I began my blog I have only written about my interactions with the men I have met in the homeless community. The outdoor sleeping area is divided between men and women at night so its more common for me to have longer conversations with the men. However, there are many women who stay in the outdoor shelter and have tremendous need.
When I arrived at the outdoor shelter on Tuesday evening there were cop cars surrounding the area. It seemed strange…but not surprising because this is a bad part of town so I just quietly walked on by the cop cars and checked into the area. Once I entered the gates women started buzzing about what just took place.
According to the sources…just before I arrived there was a woman arguing with another man outside the gates where many people gather to socialize (in both good and bad ways.) The argument started small…then elevated to a fight…and then the woman was physically abused and hit in the face by the man. I don’t really know what the fight was about. It does not matter. It was a tragic but all to common situation.
This was a strange night for me to confront this issue emotionally because I was just returning from Trinity University where I watched a play about women’s rights and issues all around the globe. (Angela Tarango, a former Duke Ph.D student and T.A who is now a Professor of Religion at Trinity, starred in the play with her colleagues.) Needless to say…women were on my mind.
Like the men in the shelter, the women come from all different ages, races, and backgrounds. However, it seems to me that many of the women struggle with different problems than many of the men. A major one being….abuse.
Unfortunately, it’s all here at the shelter.
I see it every night.
Violence. There are women who are abused by men on a daily basis in and around the shelter. They are talked down to by the men, yelled at, and commonly show signs of physical abuse. You can see it in their eyes. You can see it in their smile. You can see it all over their body. We can very easily write it off as just another issue on the streets. But the problem is much bigger than “the streets.” Violence against women happens at every economic level. Historically, men have the upper hand over women due to the cultural and religious beliefs of many people. The same applies on the streets. The woman here are treated by the other homeless men as second class citizens.
Sex. Prostitution is everywhere on the streets. It is not uncommon to witness women selling their bodies as they make their rounds in and out of the sleeping area during the night. Some cater to the men in and around the shelter…and some cater to business men or others who drive up to the area and pick them up on the side of the road. The world’s oldest profession plays a huge part in the abuse of homeless women living on the streets. It’s not always by total free choice. Quite the opposite when it happens inside poverty. One women I have befriended is one of these women. She spends many of her nights at a motel downtown when she posts good business. They guys here give her attention when they want her body for sex…but when that is not possible they treat her like dirt and call her a slut for acting the way she does. It kills me. It seems so one-sided.
In fact, she is a terrific woman. She just needs to be loved by the right people in life. The other day she found a cat and started to care for it. And she wanted to show everyone her new pet! When I ran into her she needed a rope to make a leash so we gathered up enough lanyards from our ID cards to make a leash. It was fun. I saw this practice done by others with pets in the area!
However my favorite story comes from my third night in the outdoor shelter about 2 weeks ago. One evening a women a I were sitting at a picnic bench inside the gates talking about life when a man came into the area completely drunk. As he made his way into the area he quickly passed out on the cement by our table. Quietly, without announcement or scene, she got up, grabbed and extra blanket from her mat and laid it on top of the man. Then jumped back into our conversation. Her quiet kindness blew me away. Why would she care for someone like that after all she has been through? It hit me…
For a moment she was able to focus on something other than sex. For a moment she was able to participate in true love. For a moment she was not a slut.
The truth is shocking. According to the United Nations, one of every three women on the planet will be physically or sexually abused in her lifetime. “Although sources of violence may seem diverse, women’s responses sound tragically similar. Besides the pain and strength you will hear in their survival stories, the themes that resound across cultures and geographies are of the indifference of authorities, the familial instinct of denial, and the lack of public outrage about the violence that millions of women experience every day.”
The night the lady was abused outside the outdoor shelter, my friend Angela was helping raise money to help stop the violence against women. The fight against women’s violence was born of the belief that until the above themes are addressed, these violations named and taken up by whole communities as an unacceptable desecration of human dignity, the violence will continue.
Go online and help fight against violence. There are many great organizations that help fight for women’s rights. Join one of them tonight.