By Nicolette Slender

A few weeks back, I was joking with one of the regular attendees of our Women’s Free Homeless Clinic (WFHC) about how the men in our lives struggle to figure out how to properly use soap. A few laughs and petty remarks later, we ended up discussing different ways men and women survive on the streets. It was then when she told me:


“For women, it is a heck of a lot harder out on the streets than it is for men. That’s why I have a lot of guy friends out here, because they look out for me. The one thing I recommend for new women on the streets is to sleep in the light so you can be seen. Sleep somewhere you can be seen by someone driving by. Sleep in a group, don’t sleep by yourself. That’s the difference. Men don’t have to sleep surrounded by a group of other men to feel safe, but women do.”


The woman then went on to inform me that nearly all of the women in the women’s clinic have dealt with some sort of physical or sexual abuse during their time on the streets. Additionally, given that studies support the claim that majority of sexual assaults go unreported[1], one can imagine how much more applicable this statistic is to communities of marginalized women. In light of the recent #MeToo social movement gaining national recognition, pushing the conversation on sexual violence into mainstream media, it is important to amplify the voices of homeless women thus broadening the scope of women being represented in our fight for gender equality.


At the WFHC, it is our mission to provide a safe and trusting environment for the female homeless population of Santa Barbara. Due to the experiences many of the women face on the streets, it is not unusual for them to fear or distrust unfamiliar men. The WFHC was created and primarily staffed with female volunteers to address this issue by providing a safe space for women to freely socialize and seek aid for their worries. As another WFHC attendee shared with me:


“The women’s clinic is a blessing. Issues that come along with being a woman-your period, menopause, mental health, it all adds up. But here, you get help for all of these things. You can come in here and take a shower. You can come in here and see a doctor. You can come in here and get a good meal. It’s a blessing. Somehow, everyone gets along. The mental illness, everything, subsides when you walk into the clinic. Nobody is better or worse off than anybody else.”


[1] U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, M. Planty and L. Langton, “Female Victims of Sexual Violence, 1994-2010,” 2013; Wolitzky-Taylor et al, “Is Reporting of Rape on the Rise? A Comparison of Women with Reported Versus Unreported Rape Experiences in the National Women’s StudyReplication,” 2010