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What Is Period Poverty?

“Period poverty” is an important issue - did you know many women don’t have access to safe, hygienic sanitary products or awareness of where to go for help?

Statistics from a Harvard University study show that there are nearly 22 million women living in poverty in the US that can’t afford items like pads or tampons. These individuals are first concerned with living day to day, and worrying about where they're going to sleep and eat; the problem of how they’re going to manage their period and bodily fluids is something they don’t have the convenience of preparing for until it happens. 

It’s important for everyone to understand that menstrual hygiene products are a necessity, not a luxury. When we think of menstrual health equality, we also have to take into consideration that homeless women of older age who no longer have periods sometimes have to rely on adult diapers, because they don’t have access to public restrooms and rely on diapers to take care of all of their bodily fluids. A new bill was recently proposed in Washington, DC to create public bathrooms within the city limits that are accessible in multiple areas to those in need. 

A Story

I have witnessed many women rely solely on Thrive DC’s menstrual products; however, two individuals stick out the most. Both individuals were/are chronically homeless, meaning sleeping in places not meant for habitation. 

During our Dinner Program one would come in with soiled adult diapers because she relied on them for all of her bodily needs during her time on the streets where bathrooms were not accessible or available because she looked a certain way, or could not afford to patronize a business to have access to their bathroom.  This individual would come into the women’s program to eat a hot meal and shower and request adult diapers. Sometimes, she would not come in for a few days and then we would discover she was wearing the same diaper she received from us days prior and it was heavily soiled.

I offered assistance with creating a hygiene kit “to go” but she would always refuse, telling me that she couldn’t carry the items along with her other belongings. The solution was that she’d promise me to come in daily to get fresh diapers and she agreed. The fact that this individual know that there is an organization in her community like Thrive DC that she can come in and take care of her hygiene is what I want the entire homeless community to be informed and aware of, they may not come in today or tomorrow, but by informing them we are here is what matters. 

Basic Physical Needs Are The Foundation Of Success

If individuals can’t take care of their basic needs it’s hard for them to think about bigger goals like finding housing or getting a job. A stepping stone to ending and preventing period poverty is that some states and cities across the nation including Washington, DC have made purchasing of menstrual products tax free, a right step in the right direction. 

I have witnessed many women rely solely on Thrive DC’s menstrual products. One individual would come into Thrive DC every month to retrieve feminine hygiene items, but she wasn’t interested in any other services despite us repeatedly offering them to her. She came in three months in a row until she finally asked “Can you help me obtain an ID?” 

She was hesitant to ask because she was living day to day, wondering where she would eat and sleep. However, once she felt that her basic needs were being met consistently, it was one less thing she had to worry about and she felt able to begin tackling her longer term goals. We hope that telling these stories will give others hope, knowing that they can walk in during business hours on any given day to receive these items and support at no cost with no judgements. 

You Can Help Women In Need

Thrive is always looking for menstrual pads and adult diapers. If you or anyone you know feels inspired to help by donating these types of products, or has an idea to help in another way, please reach out to our In-Kind Donations Coordinator, Rose Osburn through email rose@thrivedc.org or call at 202-503-1533.

Based on the best-selling book, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond, the National Building Museum is currently showing an exhibition “Evicted.” The exhibit debuted in April 2018 and will run through May 2019.

“Evicted” chronicles the process of eviction for low-income renters and impacts of eviction on the lives of those who are most vulnerable in the housing system. Using statistics, graphics, visual pieces of art, and multimedia, the exhibit takes the viewer through the process of eviction and depicts the different effects eviction can have on a family. The power of the visuals of the exhibit was outstanding.

While eviction affects millions of families per year in the United States, some communities are disproportionately affected. Eviction is most common for African American single mothers, and poor single mothers are particularly at risk of eviction. Desmond’s research found that among Milwaukee renters, one in five black women report having been evicted at some point in their adult life. The same is true for roughly one in 12 hispanic women, and one in 15 white women.

Children who live in families that face eviction may grow up with greater risks of mental health issues, substance abuse issues, and are at a higher risk of experiencing homelessness as adults.  

Here are a few key take-aways from the exhibit:

Impact of art and advocacy:

The exhibit used artwork and visual representations of facts and statistics to convey the message of “Evicted” and demonstrate the pervasive issue of housing insecurity throughout the United States. The exhibit featured structures in the shape of homes which visitors could go inside of and watch media such as interviews or clips from documentaries. This interactive experience gives the visitor an immersive experience in the exhibit.

The mental and physical effects of eviction:

The process of eviction poses several challenges for the wellbeing of families. If a landlord files for a court-ordered eviction, a tenant will need to make childcare arrangements, find transportation, and take time off work. This process disproportionately affects low-income renters who may not be financially able to afford childcare or miss days from work. It can also be difficult for those renters who do not speak English to understand the complicated legal arguments or understand what forms they are singing. It also prevents them from seeing opportunities to fight for their rights or delay eviction.

This entire process can negatively impact the physical and mental health of the families affected by eviction. As Desmond writes, “eviction can be a cause, rather than a result of poverty.” According Desmond, individuals who have gone through an eviction are more likely to suffer from depression and other mental health challenges. Also, frequent moves disrupt healthcare, especially for people with chronic illnesses who have built relationships with doctors in their neighborhoods. For children, the frequent changing of schools interrupts their ability to make relationships with peers, counselors, and teachers, and stay up-to-date with current curriculum.

All of these changes build up as added stress on a family.

What activists have been doing across the nation:

The end of the exhibit featured a map of the United States, highlighting where different organizations have taken steps towards guaranteeing more tenant rights and preventing evictions. Here in DC, the campaign #OurHomesOurVoices works to convince Congress to reserve more funds for housing subsidies and low income renters. The organization also works to incentivize developers to build more affordable housing. The organization Homestart has prevented more than 2,500 evictions in the Boston Area. By providing low income and at-risk households with legal advice and rental assistance payments, the organization works to prevent evictions and end homelessness in Boston.

Homelessness and eviction go hand in hand. Often, homelessness is a result of eviction. Eviction leaves vulnerable tenants with no place to go, and it is often hard to crawl out of poverty in cities that have financial and prejudicial barriers to jobs, healthcare, and housing.

Thrive DC’s services work to aid those who have fallen victim to the eviction process, by offering meals, showers, and laundry services. Beyond these emergency services, Thrive DC also provides clients with either legal advice or career coaching, both of which can help our clients get back on their feet.

Written by Colleen, Communications Intern at Thrive DC

Colleen is a junior at the George Washington University double majoring in English and journalism with a minor in creative writing. Originally from Allentown, Pennsylvania, Colleen hopes to enter the world of communications post graduation and hopefully work in the nonprofit field. Colleen is passionate about housing in D.C., and previously interned with Street Sense Media, a D.C. newspaper dedicated to reporting on issues relevant to the homeless community. On her campus, Colleen is the Political Affairs chair for Voices for Choices, GW’s reproductive justice advocacy organization, and is a member of the Feminist Student Union.

Mariah, our Communications Coordinator, sat down to chat with the newest member of the Thrive DC family: Marciel, Re-Entry Specialist and Case Manager. We are now able to offer victim services to our clients through support, referrals, and connecting clients to services if they have been a victim of a crime.

The purpose of this NEW program is to provide victims of violence with specific resources to improve their quality of life. Victim services includes resources and referrals for homeless victims of crime in the last 3 months from the day they share the event of a crime with us. This includes (but is not limited to): assault and battery, property damage, sexual assault, stalking, domestic violence, hate crime, harassment, theft, and other violent crime.

Fatal assaults against people experiencing homelessness outnumber hate-crimes against all protected classes combined. Between 1999 and 2015, at least 1,657 homeless individuals were violently attacked, in many cases because of their housing status, according to a report by the National Coalition for the Homeless. This is only including those that are reported.

Homeless victims have rights. We’re going to be talking more about how we’re providing support for our clients while bringing public awareness to this issue.

Tell me more about what you’ve been up to!

So we received this grant so the cool thing about this grant is that we’re not giving direct services but referring most of the clients coming in who need support to other organizations and agencies that have the space and capacity to see them for a long period of time, help them get what they need if something was damaged or stolen, or help them get the legal services they need.

Right now-I’m working on adding the questions to our intake forms and updating our Spanish documents, We’re going to create a short 2-3 questions survey so I have documentation that they came in and I can follow up/check on them, see what services I referred them to. I’m building the materials I need to best serve our clients.

What does victim services mean and who can access support from you to get referrals?

Anyone who is a victim of a crime. So for example:  if you experience stalking, sexual assault, domestic violence, etc-it’s a variety of things that fall under that umbrella. What’s cool is there’s a special victims unit of the metropolitan police department that I’m connecting with in case anyone wants to report or follow up.

So that’s what I’m figuring out, how I can connect with other organizations. It’s unique because we’re not offering direct service so it may be a little confusing so we’re here to bridge the gap. It’s difficult to navigate all the resources in the District. So I’m putting together resources , with the help of Hailey [Program Coordinator and Case Manager]. She has a ton of knowledge about the services offered in the city and has been super helpful. Which helps when it comes to making sure a resource is a good fit and the client feels comfortable accessing their services.

Most of the people I’ve met with so far are women. It’s crucial to know where do they feel more comfortable and which agency will respect their identity or preferred name and pronouns. She’s helping me put together a huge spreadsheet of resources in the area and after that I’m going to build relationships each month with different organizations to ensure we’re creating a streamline process and build community while we’re at it. This will include information on where I’ve referred clients so we can make sure they’re getting everything they need.

So you’re a new staff member, how long have you been at Thrive DC? What got you interested in working here?

I’ve been here for almost two months. I started part-time working primarily with the re-entry folks. Then this grant happened, they asked if I wanted to become a full time team member and I said yes! I’ve never worked with returning citizens and I was curious to know the challenges that they face when they come out.

I know the challenges that human trafficking victims and domestic violence victims experience. It was interesting to see how similar the struggles and barriers that they face can be. They have been through different life challenges but can overcome and I see some relations of their struggles.

I’m excited to meet the clients! They come in for so many different things, I’m most looking forward to get to know them and fostering relationships. It’s important to know someone has your back and is looking out for your needs. Hopefully we can continue growing, getting grants, and building support to make this program even better.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of a crime in the past 3 months, contact us at 202-737-9311 to connect with Marciel or stop by during our open hours from 11am-12pm and 1pm-3pm Wednesday-Friday.

A recent study done by the Prison Policy Initiative shows that formerly incarcerated people are 10 times more likely to be homeless and some demographics are at an even higher risk; people who have been incarcerated multiple times, people recently released from prison, and people of color and women.

A vicious cycle in homelessness all starts with incarceration. Returning citizens often times have difficulty securing a job and housing after they are released due to stigma and systemic barriers. When they try to find shelter in other ways they are often arrested again for public loitering.

D.C. has the highest incarceration rate in the country, one out of 50 people are incarcerated.  Since 2001, the number of women arrested has increased by 19 percent. Releases have increased, but once someone becomes incarcerated their chance of becoming homeless increases as well.

In the PPI study, four recommendations regarding to policy are given as a way to end this cycle:

  1. States should have systems in place to help released individuals a fair chance at finding housing.
  2. Protect individuals from being immediately excluded by their record. Instead, evaluate each applicant as an individual.
  3.  Stop categorizing homelessness as a crime.
  4. Expand social services to assist individuals in becoming successful returning citizens.

Here at Thrive DC, we believe re-entry programs are vital to helping individuals get back on their feetespecially women. In a recent study, 45.6% of incarcerated women in D.C. said they had at least a high school education. In another study, 40% of women in prisons had no job prior to being incarcerated. Most who had a job never made above $6.50 an hour.

Thrive DC is dedicated to helping individuals overcome this cycle.

The New Directions Re-entry Program assists people who are formerly incarcerated get back on track in five key components: Case Management, Basic Needs Assistance, Life Skills Education, Access to Sobriety Maintenance Assistance and Support, and Employment Assistance.  

Within the Employment Assistance component, clients are able to take part in one of two sub- programs: Customer Service Training and Certification or Real Opportunity Job Training. Both options give clients work experience and knowledge about certain career fields that boost their chances of being hired full time. In addition, clients gain support in their journey to integrating back into their community which is critical to success.

By Cayley, Development & Communications Intern at Thrive DC

Cayley is a senior at Oklahoma State University studying Agricultural Communications. She has a passion for helping others and hope her words can inspire others to feel the same.

Adult diapers are usually not the first thing you think about when donating to the homeless. However, conflicts around when and where “to go” are part of our clients’ daily struggles.

Adult diapers provide our clients needed sanitation, safety, and dignity when they need it the most.

Here are 5 reasons why adult diapers are important:

No Bathroom Access

If you’re sleeping outside chances are you won’t be able to access a bathroom when stores or other public venues close. Adult diapers can save the day and allow the homeless to get through a night without having an embarrassing accident or soiling the only clothes they may own.  

Also, even during the day many places won’t let our homeless clients use the bathroom - so what else can they use?

Menstrual Cycles

According to 2017 DC Women’s Needs Assessment Report, on a given night, at least 882 unaccompanied women are experiencing homelessness in the District of Columbia.

For many homeless women, access to maxipads and tampons are an ongoing obstacle. Adult diapers can come in handy when homeless women don’t have access to these products or can’t find a bathroom to change.

Adult diapers also prevent the staining of their clothes, which may be the only ones they have.

Safety

Men can use the bathroom almost anywhere somewhat discreetly - while women must suffer more exposure if they need to use the bathroom in a non-private, unspecified space.

This kind of exposure and lack of privacy makes women unsafe and vulnerable when living on the street. Having adult diapers removes this risk and is a small measure of security for homeless women.

Avoid Arrest

The homeless can get in trouble for indecent exposure when they have no other choice but to use the bathroom in public. It’s a catch 22 - they’re not allowed in to use the bathroom in private establishments, but it’s illegal to use the bathroom in a park or an alley. This is one example of what it means to “criminalize homelessness:” making the desperate choices our homeless clients make when they have no other options illegal.

When our clients have adult diapers, it gives them one more way to avoid attention from the authorities.

Health

Many homeless people suffer from chronic and/or acute illnesses that may cause incontinence issues. Paired with mental health challenges these illnesses can be exacerbated or the homeless may not be aware they’re in public when using the bathroom.  

Having adult diapers can be a lifesaver when someone is incontinent and can’t find a bathroom quickly.

What You Can Do

In the end, our clients want stability and respect. As Alice Horton, Thrive DC’s executive director, explains: “the biggest issue is the need to help vulnerable people maintain their dignity.”

To that end, there are two big ways that you can help our clients:

  1. Donate Adult Diapers - diapers can be an expensive resource for Thrive DC to keep, and by donating or buying some you make a direct, tangible impact on our clients. You can even purchase them directly from our Amazon Wishlist.
  2. Advocate For More Public Restrooms - DC Council is considering a bill to build more public restrooms, and our representatives need to know this is something our community wants! Send an email to your Council member and let them know that you think bathrooms are a public right.

On any given night, there are over 800 single homeless women in DC.

In the Spring of 2017, the Women's Task Force of the Interagency Council on Homelessness (ICH) worked with the Community Partnership for the Prevention of Homelessness (TCP) to analyze gender and household data from the 2017 Point in Time Count.

This data was very revealing, showing that there were several differences between the experiences of homeless men and women, and that homeless women experienced mental illness and violence at far greater rates than men do.

Armed with this initial data, the Women's Task Force conducted a separate study in the Fall of 2017 to better understand the needs of homeless women. Below is the full report and the Executive Summary of the data.

Initial Highlights

New Directions Program Interview with Pam

Community Relations Manager Greg Rockwell recently sat down with Pam, Thrive DC's Re-Entry Program Manager, to talk about what it's really like for men and women after prison.

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Pam Pyles-Walker and I am the Re-entry Program Manager. I oversee our New Directions program.

What is New Directions?

New Directions is our program to support returning citizens. There are two parts: one is open to all returning citizens (someone who has been charged and convicted with a crime) and one that focuses on women.

Why do women need their own program?

Women have a lot of additional needs and barriers after incarceration. Usually, they are the primary caretakers of children, and many have experienced domestic violence or sexual abuse.

Not that those things don’t happen to men as well – but it’s much more prevalent among female returning citizens.

What is the biggest thing that men and women struggle with after incarceration?

Forgiving themselves. There’s a lot of regret over the heartbreak they caused, the family members who had to visit them behind bars, and the crimes that they committed.

Especially if they’re a parent – for many of our clients the time that they lost with their kids is a big hole in their lives, and getting their kids to forgive them is really important.

Specifically for women, there’s a cultural expectation of them as caregivers and being the family’s center. For them, to reintegrate with their families after having “failed” in that role, and having someone else raise their kids – there’s a lot of anxiety that they’re dealing with.

How does New Directions work?

With New Directions we spend the first six weeks focusing on life skills – Interpersonal Relationships, Communications Skills, Expressing Emotions, and Making Connections and Staying Healthy.

Being able to say thank you is a big one. We work on saying thank you to the people and organizations who are supporting our clients because none of this is owed to them. Helping returning citizens be grateful gives them a sense of community and helps them understand that it’s not them against the world – they’re a part of something.

I also spend a lot of time with our clients helping them focus on taking care of themselves. It’s like they tell you on the airplane – first put the oxygen mask on yourself and then focus on others.

A lot of our clients come in with expectations from their family that they’re immediately going to pitch in and help – that they’ll walk out of prison and immediately have a job, that they’ll have money to share, that they’ll have all the time in the world…but the reality is that they have court-ordered obligations and varying skill sets and barriers that may make it hard to get employed.

That’s the first six weeks. What happens after that?

They can choose a training program: Real Opportunity Training Program, Customer Service, or Customer Service – Front of the House.

The goal is to give our returning citizens practical, useful training in jobs that they can immediately get and that we have connections in. It’s easier to get a job when you have a job – and our clients do better when they have momentum in their lives and structure. It’s incredible. Once our clients start seeing success, they want more of it.

What else? If someone is in New Directions, what other resources can they access?

All of our clients have access to Thrive DC’s emergency food program, substance abuse counseling, employment assistance, and referrals to our nonprofit network.

What kind of person succeeds in New Directions?

Someone who is tired of their old lifestyle, and is ready to change.

Someone who accepts that they deserve a second chance.

And someone who is willing to demand both change and success from themselves.

What kind of person doesn’t succeed?

The person who isn’t doing it for themselves. If a client is in our program because someone else said to do it – whether it’s a corrections officer, a parent, a friend – there will come a point where it gets hard.

And if they don’t have the drive to push through then they won’t.

Another barrier for our clients is distraction. It’s really easy to fall back into old habits, old hangouts, old friends…the same things that got you into trouble in the first place. If you can’t avoid those distractions, or find a way to manage them, it makes this process much, much harder.

What is working against returning citizens finding success?

Besides themselves – getting society to forgive them, and a lack of a whole lot of things: education, work experience, support, and knowledge of the resources available to them.

Money is a big one. Without money, our returning citizens can’t get housing, can’t eat, can’t take the bus or clothe themselves. They can’t participate in anything because of costs.

Oddly enough, not knowing how to spend their leisure time is a significant problem for returning citizens. Because of their barriers and distractions, there is a whole lot we tell them they can’t do – can’t go to the bar, can’t hang out with friends – so what are they supposed to do?

That’s why we also do assessments to figure out what their interests are and what hobbies they might enjoy. We want to replace negative behaviors with positive ones.

What else? What else do we need to know about returning citizens and their reintegration?

We need to remember that they are humans. They are adult human beings who have paid their debts to society. And they really come out of prison full of hope.

For more information: on the WIND program please visit us at www.thrivedc.org/programs/windPam can be reached by email at Pamela@thrivedc.org or by phone at  (202) 503-1531

1.The official number of homeless people in the US is over 500,000. But experts believe the real number is closer to 3 million.

According to the US State of Homelessness report, 564,708 people experience homelessness on any given night—meaning they sleep outside or in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program.

Amongst 32 of the largest US cities, DC has the highest homelessness rate with over 8,000 homeless individuals, or 124  homeless people for every 10,000 residents in the general population.

The rate in DC is almost double the national average.

2. The average age of a homeless person is 9 years old.

The face of homelessness is not an old man-- it’s actually a young child. HUD reports that on any given night, over 138,000 of the homeless in the US are children under the age of 18.

In our nation’s capital, families make up 52% of the homeless community.

3. The main cause of homelessness isn’t drugs or alcohol - it’s a lack of affordable housing.

With rent prices soaring across US cities, many low-income people turn to subsidized housing for a place to sleep.

But in recent years, HUD’s budget has been slashed by over 50%, resulting in the loss of 10,000 units of subsidized low-income housing each and every year.

4. For women, the main cause of homelessness is domestic abuse.

Over 90% of homeless women are victims of severe physical or sexual abuse, and escaping that abuse is a leading cause of their homelessness.

Slipping in and out of homelessness, studies find DC women stay in a low-barrier shelter a median number of 27 nights.

5. You can do a LOT to help.

Many homeless people rely on non-profits like Thrive DC for daily hot meals and showers. But with government funding cuts, these organizations need your help fundraising and donating.

Just $26 provides organizations like Thrive DC with a full month of hot showers for their homeless clients. You can also see your donations in action by volunteering with Thrive DC.

And if you encounter a homeless person on the street and want to help right then and there, print out or pick up these cards that include info about how to get any sort of help they may need.

Consider helping out your community today

Eight months ago Antoinette moved from New York City to Washington, DC to be with her boyfriend. But life here was difficult without a job and without any prospects to get a job.

She went to Skyland Workforce Center hoping to get help, and that’s where she found Thrive DC. With encouragement from Thrive DC’s Employment Specialist, Antoinette applied for the Real Opportunity program and was accepted.

Antoinette enjoyed everything about the program, which gave her extra incentive to get up early each day so she could make the trip from Anacostia.

The Real Opportunity Training Program was a great learning experience for Antoinette, exposing her to new cooking techniques and practices she’d never considered, everything from managing a pantry and rotating stock to the different kinds of cuts for meat. But what she learned most was to have patience…with others and with herself.

Antoinette drew strength from the people around her – the Thrive DC staff, her instructors, and her fellow program participants. The spirit of cooperation and respect was something she hadn’t planned on, but was incredibly thankful for.

Once Antoinette was placed at Dos Gringos for her externship, her learning continued. From chopping ingredients to stocking shelves and washing dishes, Antoinette gained experience in all aspects of the kitchen. She impressed her manager at the restaurant so much that once her externship was over she was asked to continue – as a paid employee!

Antoinette now feels more stable and looks forward to someday becoming a chef and perhaps owning her own business. She hopes to one day help others who are in situations similar to hers because: “If you’re going to take, you’ve got to be willing to give.”

A Job Training Program That Works

Want more information on Thrive DC's Real Opportunity Training Program? Click the link to learn more about our comprehensive program supporting people out of homelessness.

More Stories of Hope

If you like this story, you might also enjoy reading about Dalton and Jeffrey.

“I’d never actually completed anything in my life before.”

The deck was stacked against Roxann. A high school dropout, she had turned to drugs and had spent time in prison. She found herself in transitional housing with no job – or prospects for a job. She wanted to get her life back on track, but the odds weren’t in her favor.

Fortunately, Roxann’s case manager knew about Thrive DC and suggested that she check out our Real Opportunity culinary arts training program. The thought of an intensive six-month program was daunting though: “I’d never actually completed anything in my life before" said Roxann.

It wasn’t easy for Roxann, beginning with creating her resume. “I never learned how to use a computer. It was so frustrating.” But Thrive DC’s staff helped her every step of the way. Learning skills in our kitchen was easier for Roxann, and at times more meaningful.

When the Real Opportunity participants helped serve the breakfast they’d just prepared, Roxann would look at who she was serving and think, “It wasn’t long ago that that was me.”

Finally, Roxann’s externship at Open City made her feel good about getting up and going to work. It gave her a sense of purpose, especially since she hadn’t held a job in over 15 years. The Open City staff welcomed her with open arms. She felt supported. And when Roxann, who is also a breast cancer survivor, needed time off for doctors appointments, Open City’s Chef Carlos made sure she could take the time.

Roxann has been drug free for three years and has high hopes for the future. When asked at her Real Opportunity graduation ceremony what was next for her, she took the question quite literally and said, “I’m leaving here to go enroll in night school to finish high school.” After that, Roxann plans to give back, to help those who are homeless and struggling just like she was.

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