LGBTQ-Identifying Homeless Youth

homelessness, Homlessness, housing discrimination, Inequality, LGBTQI

June is Pride month so I thought that it would be appropriate to spend some time discussing the growing number of LGBTQ youth who are experiencing homelessness in the U.S.A. Roughly 40% of youth who are homeless in the U.S. are LGBTQ-identifying (HRC 2017). Many cities in the U.S. have seen drastic increases in the number of LGBTQ youth who are experiencing homelessness in the past decade. LGBTQ youth who are homeless are more likely than their heterosexual and cisgendered counterparts to experience high rates of mental health issues, STDs and STIs, physical and sexual abuse, and substance use (Page 2017, Keuroghlian et. al. 2014).

While LGBTQ youth homelessness has been a significant issue for quite some time, research on LGBTQ youth who are homeless has just started to catch up with reality. In this post, I would like to highlight some of the insightful and useful research that has recently been published on this issue. These articles span disciplines, methodologies, and theoretical frameworks. But, since homelessness is a complex issue that demands an understanding of how complex the world is, I believe that it is necessary for policymakers, policy administrators, and policy analysts to examine research from all disciplines when trying to figure out how to best serve homeless LGBTQ youth.

First, Michelle Page’s 2017 article titled “Forgotten Youth: Homeless LGBT Youth of Color and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act” is critical work that is worth reading. Page examines the understudied experiences of LGBTQ youth of color. She makes research and policy recommendations for how to better serve LGBT homeless youth of color who often face additional injustices and challenges than their white LGBT homeless youth counterparts. Page draws attention to an area that needs more investigation in this concise piece, writing: “Legislative invisibility is the phenomenon that when certain classifications of people, like LGBT, are not specifically addressed in a statute, they reap no benefit from it even though it is meant to benefit everyone. This type of invisibility is a consequence of implementing overly generalized policies, which lack nuance, to extend to homeless youth on a national scale. Laws based solely on the experiences of one identity group, when members within the group are also members of varying subgroups, can only provide a limited amount of support.” (p. 20).

Second, the 2016 article by Elaine M. Maccio and Kristin M. Ferguson titled “Services to LGBTQ runaway and homeless youth: Gaps and recommendations” reveals the results from studying 19 non-profit and government organizations that are serving LGBTQ homeless youth. These agencies receive money from the federal Runaway and Homeless Youth Act (RHYA) to design and implement programs that range in objectives from housing to education. Maccio and Ferguson’s research identifies and explains gaps in the current service environment and suggests alternative methods to better serve LGBTQ youth who are homeless. One of the interesting observations made by the authors is that LGBTQ youth who are housed in both emergency and transitionary housing programs with youth who are not LGBTQ-identifying are less likely to stay in the housing programs largely due to harassment by their non-LGBTQ peers. The authors recommend that more programs try to use supportive housing models for LGBTQ youth. They recommend and highlight models that have been successfully implemented and can be designed in other programs.

Third, in the 2014 article “Out on the Street: A Public Health and Policy Agenda for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth Who Are Homeless,” authors Alex S. Keuroghlian, Derri Shtasel, and Ellen L. Bassuk examine prevalent and dangerous health trends within the LGBTQ homeless youth community. The goal of this article is to develop “responsible practices and policies” (p. 66) for addressing issues facing LGBTQ youth who are homeless such as mental health and substance use problems, suicidal acts, violent victimization, and a range of HIV risk behaviors. The authors break down the research by subpopulations, identifying the most serious risks and health issues for transgender, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth populations individually. They also show that race and ethnicity can influence a homeless LGBTQ youth’s health outcomes. Keuroghlian, Shtasel, and Bassuk draw attention to the need for increased HIV education amongst homeless LGBTQ youth and they identify some promising methods for designing and implementing health education programs. For example, they discuss new internet-based initiatives that are designed to reduce HIV transmission amongst LGBTQ youth who are homeless (p. 68).

Fourth, in the 2014 edition of Young Adult Library Services, Jama Shelton and Julie Winkelstein published an article titled “Librarians and Social Workers: Working Together for Homeless LGBTQ Youth.” Not only is this article a useful guide for librarians and library staff, it is also a fantastic example of interdisciplinary work. This article shows that when people work together across fields, industries, and disciplines, LGBTQ youth who are homeless have the best chance at receiving the highest quality services.

There are other excellent research articles and policy resources on this topic that are emerging. Even as I write this blog post and even as you read it, there is probably someone who is working diligently to try to find creative methods for serving LGBTQ youth who are homeless. However, there is always more work to be done to assist LGBTQ youth who are homeless. Whether you are a scholar, an activist, a government official, a business leader, or a non-profit representative, you too can try to find ways to support LGBTQ youth who are homeless. I have provided some resources below that may be helpful to those who would like to support LGBTQ youth who are homeless and to those LGBTQ-identifying young people who are experiencing homelessness and looking for resources.

Note: All of the hyperlinks in this article were accessible to the public on 6/26/17 but the links may have expired since then. I do my best to maintain and update expired links, but please let me know (by leaving a comment in the comments section below) if a certain link has expired. Thank you!

Resources:

If you would like more information on LGBTQ youth homelessness in general or if you need city-specific or county-specific resources, check out the National Coalition for the Homeless’ LGBT Homelessness project: http://nationalhomeless.org/issues/lgbt 

Lambda Legal: https://www.lambdalegal.org/know-your-rights/article/youth-homeless

True Colors Fund: https://truecolorsfund.org/our-issue/

If you are a young LGBTQ person experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles, check out the Los Angeles LGBT Center: https://lalgbtcenter.org/social-service-and-housing/youth/homelessness

References:

Human Rights Campaign. “LGBTQ Youth Homelessness” (2017): http://www.hrc.org/resources/lgbt-youth-homelessness

Keuroghlian, Alex S., Derri Shtasel, and Ellen L. Bassuk. “Out on the street: a public health and policy agenda for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth who are homeless.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 84.1 (2014): 66.

Maccio, Elaine M., and Kristin M. Ferguson. “Services to LGBTQ runaway and homeless youth: Gaps and recommendations.” Children and Youth Services Review 63 (2016): 47-57.

Page, Michelle. “Forgotten Youth: Homeless LGBT Youth of Color and the Runaway and Homeless Youth Act.” Nw. JL & Soc. Pol’y 12 (2017): 17-92.

Shelton, Jama, and Julie Winkelstein. “Librarians and social workers: Working together for homeless LGBTQ youth.” Young Adult Library Services 13.1 (2014): 20.

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This Week in Housing Policy

affordable housing, homelessness, Homlessness, housing, housing discrimination

We’re only on Tuesday and so far, this week has produced a lot of strong media coverage of issues pertaining to the relationship between housing policy and inequality (social, economic, and racial inequalities in particular). Most of the year, it seems that issues of homelessness and housing policy receive meager media attention, so to have multiple news outlets covering these important issues in a span of a few days is very exciting! Whether or not you agree with the framing of these news stories or the policy suggestions implicit in these articles, it is still worth it to read the coverage of these issues, as they often get overlooked.

First on the agenda, the New York Times Magazine published a poignant piece on how the public policies that incentivize homeownership in the U.S.A. have contributed to inequality over time. This article, titled “How Homeownership Became the Engine of American Inequality,” was written by the acclaimed author Matthew Desmond who wrote last year’s hit book titled Evicted. (If you’re a housing policy nerd like me, then this is a must read!) In the article, Desmond does a great job demystifying some of the more complex and opaque features of the U.S. tax code as it is applied to issues of housing and homeownership. For example, he describes how the mortgage interest deduction (MID) favors middle and high income earners who own homes, but he notes that there is no comparable tax incentive for renters, who tend to have lower incomes. The MID was designed to encourage Americans to purchase residential properties at inflated prices, forcing them to borrow funds in the form of mortgages. This significantly contributes to the widening of the gap between affluent Americans and Americans who are struggling to get by financially. In addition, Desmond explains how racially discriminatory housing policies from the past, such as the G.I. Bill, are still affecting unequal housing outcomes for racial and ethnic minorities in today’s America. He also provides readers with profiles of individuals and families who own homes and rent properties to show the drastic differences in their experiences with housing in America.

To access Desmond’s article (published May 9, 2017), click here: https://nyti.ms/2pZp92k

To access info about Desmond’s book Evicted, click here: http://www.evictedbook.com

Second, the news outlet National Public Radio (NPR) has also paid more attention than usual to issues of housing, homelessness, and inequality in the past week. On May 3, 2017, Terry Gross produced a piece on the “forgotten history” of housing segregation in the U.S.A. This story profiles historian Richard Rothstein’s latest book The Color of the Law (more info on his book is accessible here: The Color of the Law). Gross’s article and Rothstein’s book both describe how redlining created a “state-sponsored system of segregation” in U.S. housing policy.  Rothstein notes that “the term ‘redlining’ … comes from the development by the New Deal, by the federal government of maps of every metropolitan area in the country. And those maps were color-coded by first the Home Owners Loan Corp. and then the Federal Housing Administration and then adopted by the Veterans Administration, and these color codes were designed to indicate where it was safe to insure mortgages. And anywhere where African-Americans lived, anywhere where African-Americans lived nearby were colored red to indicate to appraisers that these neighborhoods were too risky to insure mortgages.” This blog has examined redlining in previous posts, check the archives for more in-depth information on this abhorrent practice. Gross’s article, and the book that it profiles, show how these segregationist policies that began in the 1930’s are still negatively affecting African Americans today.

You can access this story (both audio and written commentary) here: “A ‘Forgotten History’ Of How The U.S. Government Segregated America”

In addition, NPR, in concert with PBS’s Frontline, produced an interesting piece on the abuse of the affordable housing system in the U.S.A. Published on May 9, 2017, this piece, titled “Affordable Housing Program Costs More, Shelters Fewer”, describes how the federal low-income housing tax credit program (LIHTC) has failed the American people, both affordable housing program beneficiaries and American tax-payers alike. The LIHTC was established to incentivize private companies to build housing for low income Americans. However, the investigation into the program by NPR and Frontline “found that with little federal oversight, LIHTC has produced fewer units than it did 20 years ago, even though it’s costing taxpayers 66 percent more in tax credits.” This means that more tax-payer money is being spent on a program that is producing fewer housing units for low income Americans. In other words, the program is ineffective at assisting poor Americans gain quality affordable housing. This report provides a critical look into the murky world of affordable housing policy and sheds some light on who is “winning” and who is “losing” in the twenty-first century. Spoiler alert: low income Americans who are seeking affordable housing are definitely losing while investors from private equity firms and companies that cater to the housing market are definitely winning.

You can access this fascinating and timely article here: http://www.npr.org/2017/05/09/527046451/affordable-housing-program-costs-more-shelters-less

 

Homelessness in Developing Countries

homeless children, homeless families, Homeless Women, homelessness, Homlessness, housing, personal experience

Homelessness is an international issue. In every nation in the world, there are people experiencing homelessness. However, the determinants, conditions, and experiences of homelessness vary considerably amongst citizens of developed, industrialized nations and citizens of developing, less industrialized nations.

While the issue of homelessness in developing countries has been understudied compared to homelessness in developed countries in academic research, there are some very informative papers in existence that pose salient questions about homelessness in developing nations. One of the main themes that runs through these papers is that global definitions and understandings of homelessness (often based on how homelessness is conceptualized in developed nations) are failing to accurately depict homelessness in developing nations. Scholars who make this argument also believe that skewed perceptions and incorrect definitions of “homelessness” affect the policy interventions directed at people who are experiencing homelessness in developing countries. These interventions usually fail because they are based on a false premise and misunderstanding of homelessness in developing countries (Speak and Tipple 2009, Speak and Tipple 2006, Tipple and Speak 2005, Speak 2004).

It is also worth mentioning that the bulk of this research on homelessness in developing nations seems to be conducted by the same research team–you may have noticed the frequency of their names in the citation above–Suzanne Speak and Graham Tipple. This is an important area of inquiry for researchers. Perhaps more people will join Speak and Tipple in investigating homelessness in developing nations.

Below is a bibliography of resources on homelessness in developing nations. When available, I have included direct links to the articles. (These links are valid on April 2. 2017 but may expire over time.) However, some of these resources must be accessed through research databases such as JSTOR or EBSCOHost.

References:

Tipple, G., & Speak, S. (2009). The hidden millions: homelessness in developing countries. Routledge.

Speak, S., & Tipple, G. (2006). Perceptions, persecution and pity: the limitations of interventions for homelessness in developing countries. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 30(1), 172-188. (click here to access article)

Tipple, G., & Speak, S. (2005). Definitions of homelessness in developing countries. Habitat International, 29(2), 337-352. (Click here to access the article)

Speak, S. (2005). Relationship between children’s homelessness in developing countries and the failure of women’s rights legislation. Housing, Theory and Society, 22(3), 129-146.

Speak, S. (2004). Degrees of destitution: a typology of homelessness in developing countries. Housing studies, 19(3), 465-482. (click here to access the article)

 

Studying Women’s Homelessness Internationally

domestic violence, Homeless Women, homelessness, Homlessness, Women and Poverty

Among developed (or industrialized) nations, the United States of America has the highest number of women experiencing homelessness (FYSB 2016; Green Doors report). While the specific determinants and the details of the experiences of homelessness are unique for each individual woman, there are some themes that emerge when examining the issue of women’s homelessness at a “macro” level.

For example, for women in the United States, domestic violence is often eerily linked to homelessness. A report from the Family and Youth Services Bureau notes: “According to multiple studies examining the causes of homelessness, among mothers with children experiencing homelessness, more than 80% had previously experienced domestic violence. Between 22 and 57% of all homeless women report that domestic violence was the immediate cause of their homelessness. Thirty-eight percent of all domestic violence victims become homeless at some point in their lives.” (FYSB 2016).

For researchers who study homelessness at academic institutions and in government agencies, one of the major research-related frustrations is a lack of research–quantitative or qualitative–on women’s homelessness. Specifically, there is little attention given to the issue of how to ameliorate homelessness for women. Which policy interventions are working and which policy interventions are failing homeless women in the U.S.? Just as there is often a lack of “political will” in local, state, and national government environments when addressing the issue of women’s homelessness, there seems to be  a lack of “research will” dedicated to investigating the best and worst ideas for reducing women’s homelessness.

Therefore, I was excited to see the publication of the March 2017 report titled “Women’s Homelessness: International Evidence on Causes, Consequences, Coping and Policies”. This report is available online and accessible to everyone: click here to access the report. One of the best strategies for finding successful policy interventions to ameliorate women’s homelessness in the U.S. is to look abroad. Go international with your investigative scope and try to find places where certain policy interventions have already succeeded in reducing women’s homelessness. Then ask, can we apply this policy intervention to the U.S. context? Will this idea work here? This report is the exemplification of an excellent resource for policy practitioners and researchers to examine in their quests to find the best methods for addressing women’s homelessness in the U.S. and abroad.

(Note: the report that I am referencing in this post addresses women’s homelessness in mainly developed, industrialized nations. Therefore, its scope is not as broad as it could be, and it omits a lot of information about, and analysis of, housing and women’s homelessness in developing nations. However, the report was published very recently so the information included in it is very up-to-date, and this report presents a good example of how to examine an issue using an international lens.)

Measure HHH passes in Los Angeles

Homlessness, housing

On Tuesday, November 8, 2016, voters in the city of Los Angeles passed Measure HHH, the Homelessness Reduction and Prevention, Housing and Facilities Bond. This is a $1.2 billion bond measure that will be used to fund the construction of 8,000-10,000 high quality affordable housing units for people who are experiencing homelessness in Los Angeles. The measure will also fund the development of housing for people who are at risk of becoming homeless and mental health care facilities.

While the presidential election has occupied the minds of many Americans this week, the mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, assured Angelenos that measure HHH provides evidence that local governments will continue to tackle complex issues such as homelessness. On Tuesday night, he was quoted by the Los Angeles Times: “There is nothing to be depressed about in Los Angeles when we wake up tomorrow…[Los Angeles] is willing to take on the toughest challenges.”

Measure HHH required a 2/3 majority of voter approval (66.67%) in order to pass and as of Thursday, November 10, 2016, the measure has received 76% of the vote. For more on measure HHH, check out the news coverage:

Los Angeles Times (11/9/2016): http://www.latimes.com/local/la-me-la-transit-homeless-20161109-story.html

CBS Local (11/9/2016): http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2016/11/09/prop-hhh-homeless/

Los Angeles Daily News (11/9/2016): http://www.dailynews.com/government-and-politics/20161109/election-2016-los-angeles-voters-give-prop-hhh-green-light

City of Miami vs. Wells Fargo and Bank of America

Homlessness, housing discrimination, Housing Policy

Recently, Wells Fargo has undergone intense scrutiny for its questionable sales and employment practices (for more information, check out the New York Times coverage: http://nyti.ms/2e6ZH6l). However, Wells Fargo’s lack of business ethics precedes this recent scandal. This week, the City of Miami is filing suit with the U.S. Supreme Court against Wells Fargo and Bank of America for allegedly practicing racial discrimination against homeowners in mortgage terms and foreclosures during the 2008 housing crisis. The City of Miami asserts that Wells Fargo and Bank of America charged homeowners of color with disproportionately larger fees and unreliable terms for their mortgages. Such exorbitant fees made it difficult for homeowners to keep up with their mortgage payments. (In other words, the mortgages were more expensive than they should have been, which made it more likely that the homeowner would default on the payments.) When homeowners of color wanted to refinance their homes in order to save them, Wells Fargo and Bank of America refused. White homeowners operating under similar economic conditions were able to refinance their homes with these institutions without contestation. Twelve other cities (including Los Angeles, Kansas City, and Philadelphia) have signed on to this suit.

The legal support for this lawsuit comes from the Fair Housing Act of 1968 which was passed with the intention of abolishing housing discrimination. One of the practices that the law specifically addresses (and bans) is discriminatory lending practices.

The lending institutions (and the interest groups that support them) argue that this lawsuit is frivolous because the City of Miami and the other plaintiff cities cannot prove that the discriminatory lending practices led to decreases in property tax revenue (thus affecting the entire city and not just individual borrowers).

The Supreme Court is considering whether or not to take the case.

Here is more information on this lawsuit:

National Public Radio’s coverage of the lawsuit (November 8, 2016):

https://www.npr.org/player/embed/501099505/501121095“>https://www.npr.org/player/embed/501099505/501121095

Los Angeles Times coverage of the lawsuit (November 8, 2016):

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-miami-housing-banks-lawsuit-20161108-story.html

If you are interested in the history of housing policy (and housing discrimination) in the United States, I recommend reading Michele Dickerson’s book Homeownership and America’s Financial Underclass: Flawed Premises, Broken Promises, New Prescriptions (Cambridge University Press, 2014). Dickerson holds the Arthur L. Moller Chair in Bankruptcy Law and Practice and she is a University Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Austin. This book would provide excellent background for anyone who is seeking to understand the underlying causes and the implications of the current lawsuit brought by the City of Miami.

Housing discrimination is one of the many factors affecting homelessness in the United States. (For more information on the specific attributes of the relationship between housing discrimination and homelessness, see the CERD Housing Report: https://www.nlchp.org/CERD_Housing_Report_2014.pdf). If the Supreme Court proceeds, will this lawsuit be able to attain some modicum of justice for the homeowners in Miami (and the other twelve plaintiff cities) who experienced homelessness after foreclosure?

 

 

 

“On the Streets” – Los Angeles Times documentary series on homelessness

Homlessness, Inequality, Los Angeles, personal experience

Los Angeles Times reporter Lisa Biagiotti has started a twelve part documentary series on homelessness in Los Angeles. The objective of the series is to connect the staggering statistics on homelessness in Los Angeles with the personal stories of people who are experiencing homelessness in the city.

The documentary is free and accessible to view on youtube, here is the link: ON THE STREETS — a feature documentary on homelessness in L.A.

The series is very effective at showing how varied experiences (and causes) of homelessness can be.

Some of the many quotes from the homeless people who were interviewed by Biagiotti in the film include:

“We’ve only been homeless for about two months…my husband and I had a set back…and then we lost everything, and now we’re down here [skid row].”

“I used to be somebody, now I’m somebody else, you know what I mean? I have a high school diploma and a college degree and they look at me like I’m homeless…I’m not homeless, I’m houseless because I don’t have a house. Homelessness is a state of mind.”

“It’s not sad but if you can’t make a certain amount [of money] and buy and apartment and afford to eat and do other things…you have to [live in your car].”

“My husband got arrested…because a guy attacked me. Now he’s serving 180 days and I ain’t got nowhere to go right now…he [my husband] told me to stay over here by the jail until I get out, but he don’t get out until December 31st and I don’t got no where to go.”

 

 

Domestic Violence, Homelessness, and Housing

domestic violence, Homlessness, housing

The article, “High Housing Costs Raise an Obstacle for Women Fleeing Abuse” written by Colleen Long and published on 8/15/15 in the Associated Press, highlights the close relationship between homelessness and domestic violence.  There are a lot of reasons why victims of domestic abuse do not “leave” their abusers immediately (or ever). These reasons are personal for each individual victim and can include (but are not limited to) economic, financial, social, emotional, and psychological motivations for staying with an abuser.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness in the United States.  As rents and housing costs soar, it has become increasingly difficult for people fleeing domestic violence to find affordable, PERMANENT housing.  There are many domestic violence shelters in the United States that struggle to meet the demand for temporary housing and supportive services.  If a person who has experienced domestic violence is able to attain temporary shelter and services, after leaving the shelter, they will have to look for permanent housing. The high housing costs can prevent them from finding a stable place to live.  Click on the link above to read more about this issue in the AP article.

A big thank you to Dorothy Holt for finding this informative article!

KPCC Covers Vehicular Homelessness in L.A.

Homlessness, Los Angeles

People who are experiencing homelessness often live in cars, RVs, and other vehicles.  Through restrictive parking and public spaces regulations, Los Angeles has increasingly made it difficult for people who are homeless to remain in their vehicles.  The public news outlet, KPCC, has been covering the stories of people experiencing homelessness who are living in RVs and vehicles.  KPCC’s coverage also details the policies and enforcement practices that prevent and encourage progress in this area. CLICK HERE to read KPCC’s news coverage.  The KPCC news coverage also includes visual representations of data on this topic, such as a map that shows where people who are living in RVs and campers are concentrated throughout Los Angeles County.

Serving the Homeless in the Spirit of Eid al-Fitr

Homeless Women, Homlessness, Islam

Eid al-Fitr is the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan.  Eid al-Fitr (also referred to as Eid ul-Fitr) is a time of celebration and many Muslims extend the spirit of celebration to people who are experiencing homelessness in their communities.  Such activities reflect the ethos of the Five Pillars of Islam.  The third pillar is giving zakat (support of the needy), and the fourth pillar is fasting during the month of Ramadan.  In addition, Muslims act on Fitrana, an obligatory charity which is to be paid to the needy prior to Eid so that the recipient(s) can afford food in time for the Eid holiday.  Fitrana differs from zakat in the calculation of the specific amount of charity given, but both tenants of faith show Islam’s dedication to assisting those who are experiencing homelessness and poverty.

Serving the Homeless

Community organizers across the globe have come up with many creative ideas for extending the Eid festivities to homeless community members.  A few years ago, in Slough (in the UK), the group Fasting Not Feasting held an Eid “flash mob”. This event shared the Eid celebrations with people who were experiencing homelessness in the community of Slough.  A flash mob is a group of people who assemble in public to perform an out of the ordinary act.  Flash mobs are most visible in dance videos that have “gone viral” online. This innovative event took the idea of a flash mob and replaced public dancing with a public meeting place for sharing food.  The organizers shared a location online and through “word of mouth” communication channels, and many people brought food to that location to share with people who were experiencing homelessness in Slough.  Sahil Khan, one of the organizers of the event, was interviewed by Muslim Voices about the event: “It was brilliant to see people of all different ages, faiths, races and backgrounds coming together to share a meal with homeless members of the community.”  For more information on this unique event, check out the BBC’s news coverage of the event.

There are also many organizations working to assist people experiencing homelessness that espouse the ethos of Islam in North America and the United States.  The United Muslim Movement Against Homelessness (UMMAH) runs many programs that serve people experiencing homelessness throughout the United States.

Muslim Women in the U.S. Need Better Services

Unfortunately, there are a lot of service agencies in the United States that do not respect the needs or dignity of Muslims who are experiencing homelessness.  Muslim women are especially vulnerable to these indignities. Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness in the United States are often treated poorly and their religious needs are ignored in shelters, housing, and social service programs.  In a poignant Muslim Link Op-Ed, Farkhunda Ali describes the challenges faced by Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness.

“Currently, in the DC Metropolitan Area and especially Baltimore, Maryland, there are many Muslim women without access to a stable Islamic living environment. Many Muslim women have often approached non-Muslim social service organizations that have placed them in shelters where they practice un-Islamic dietary habits, and disrespect the dress code of the Muslim woman. Leaving them with no other choice but to seek shelter for themselves and their small children, Muslim women have often accepted local county shelters and temporary housing. These shelters sometimes force them to compromise their Islamic beliefs in order to grant them a secure place to live. After all, some shelter is better than no shelter at all.  What does a Muslim woman do in times of disparity? Does she live under a bridge on cold windy nights, or does she live with a non-Muslim man who is often available to help her, but probably does not allow her to maintain her modesty? Also, the Muslim woman sometimes has to be separated from her children in order to accomodate foster living for them while she is forced to accept housing in women-only shelters….When a Muslim woman suddenly finds herself without a home, it is very difficult for her focus on building herself up to be able to find work or take care of her children when her primary concern is shelter, food, and clothing. Once the primary necessity is fulfilled, then she can pay closer attention on finding employment and doing other things to sustain her self. In any case, she needs temporary Islamic environment where she is able to fulfill her obligations of her faith and build herself to move on to the next step.”  (Read more of this fantastic article: http://mnisaa.org/homeless-muslim-women-shelter-an-idea-born-of-necessity)

The experiences of homeless Muslim women in the United States was also chronicled by the Washington Post in an article published on December 29, 2007:  “They [Muslim women experiencing homelessness] sleep in mosques. Or on the streets. Or in Christian-oriented shelters that might hold prayer meetings or services at odds with their own religious beliefs. For Muslim women without a place to live, particularly those who have been battered or are immigrants, being homeless can test their faith at the time they need it most.” (See: “Muslim Women Who Become Homeless Have Limited Options,” by Jackie Spinner)

There are still challenges to overcome when providing excellent services to Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness.  However, there is hope.  There are some very successful organizations that target Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness.  These organizations provide models for other agencies and service organizations.  For example, the Muslim Humanity ICNA Relief USA  organization runs shelters for women experiencing homelessness in twelve cities across the United States including Anaheim, CA, Chicago, IL, Phoenix, AZ, and Kansas City, MO.

Collective Duty for Action

As Eid festivities get underway this weekend, it is important to remember that we all have a duty to assist and serve people who are experiencing homelessness.  Those Muslim community organizers, faith leaders, and activists who work tirelessly to serve the homeless, the hungry, and the poor should be commended.  Non-Muslims have just as great an obligation to serve these vulnerable populations and should take note of the extraordinary efforts of Muslim community builders.

People who do not practice Islam should be just as concerned with providing exceptional services to Muslims who are experiencing homelessness.  Service organizations and agencies should strive to respect Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness.  Such agencies and organizations must provide an environment in which Muslim women who are experiencing homelessness feel safe, welcome, dignified, and spiritually whole.

Whether you are Muslim or not, I hope that you are inspired by the compassionate messages and practices associated with Eid al-Fitr, and that you strive to serve people who are experiencing homelessness in your community.