Menstruating is hard enough for women in general, but when you are without a home, a private restroom, or money, it makes that time of the month harder than most of us can imagine.
NSFWomen, a Bustle Series, interviews several homeless women on the streets of New York as they explain how they manage their periods with little money and privacy. According to Now.org, their experiences as homeless people can be shared with approximately 560,000 Americans across the country who are homeless. Of those number 560,000, 39.7% are women (about 222,320) according to NSFWomen. With the economy currently where it is, I can only suspect the homelessness rate will only increase from here on.
The experiences of these women and their struggles need to be heard because not enough people take into mind the hardships they face while menstruating. Through this article, you are able to hear their stories, which I really think you should. It will not only make you more mindful of the things you donate to homeless shelters, but it might also make you a little bit more grateful for the products you might have easier access to.
Kaleigh is a 27-year-old homeless woman who NSFWomen spends most of their time interviewing. She has a pretty sad story. Like most children, I am sure she had plenty of potential to go far in education or in a specific career. However, she was put into the foster care system at a very young age because she was living in a home plagued with domestic violence. She was eventually returned to the care of her mother, but to her disappointment, her mother forced her to live on the street because she did not want Kaleigh living with her. She says that her mother did this because she wanted to have her daughter under her care despite not being able to provide for her.
For 8 winters (approximately 8 years) Kaleigh has been living on the streets of the city she resides in. She says that…
“the Hardest thing about being on the street is being a female
which I don’t doubt. Unlike men, women have to deal with their periods each month, which require more money and more uncomfortably. According to Now.org, shelters usually grow over their capacity and are unable to provide enough menstrual products to last each woman. If they could buy their own products, it would cost them $70 to $90 annually, which is the average cost of pads and tampons each year. Not being able to have these products can lead to women feeling unclean. Kaleigh even says that she feels uncomfortable when she isn’t able to wash up.
Washing-Up while Menstruating
During the interview, we get a look at how Kaleigh and other women maintain personal hygiene during their periods. Her routine consists of waking up and going to the public park. A morning routine much different than the ones we’re used to that might involve a well-balanced breakfast. A park may seem like an odd place to go when you need to wash up, but it also has public bathrooms where Kaleigh and others can go to use the sinks. In the bathrooms, she describes the process of cleaning herself where she would use a cup, such as one from McDonald’s. She would fill the cup up with water and soap and stand over the toilet of the bathroom to basically pour it over her crotch area. That way, she can remove all the blood, sweat, and bacteria that, if left unrinsed, could lead to uncomfortably or even infection.
Pain from Cramps
Dealing with the pain is a whole different story. Kaleigh says that the most you can get to ease the cramps are a bottle of water or a hot cup of water from Starbucks. If you are able to, you can steal some Motrin, which is a medication to cure symptoms that come with menstruating. Stealing is not an unusual aspect of being homeless. I am sure most of these women wouldn’t steal if they were not in those situations, but since they are on the streets with little money and tons of pain, stealing seems like the best option. I couldn’t imagine the anxiety that comes with having to steal for necessity and the physical symptoms from said anxiety on someone’s body.
Kaleigh doesn’t go too deep into how she copes with the pain, but she does give a tutorial on how she makes her own tampons when she is unable to find any. Tampons are most preferable to her and women across the world since pads feel more like sticky diapers. So, when Kaleigh only has pads to work with, she would turn them into tampons. She does this by tearing out the fluffy insides of the pads (with clean hands of course), rolling them up, and leaving a little bit out in place of a string.
Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, a New York City Council member, says that…
using menstrual products that are handmade can often lead to infections from wearing them too long or even toxic shock syndrome.
That is the risk these women could encounter if they choose to make their own products.
Fun fact, New York City is actually the first city to make menstrual products like pads and tampons free in school, jails, and shelters. So, if able to squeeze into a shelter, these women wouldn’t have to pay for the products they have there, fortunately.
What Other Women Use
Throughout the video, other homeless women give their own interviews. One of these other women is Courtney who explains how she has a hard time choosing between buying food for the day with her money or buying a box of tampons, which can be as much as $10 for a big box in a store. There are basic necessities like food, clean water, and maybe clothes that trump menstrual products, which can be more expensive and only necessary for about 1 week out of the month. So, it is easy for these women to pass up the opportunity to buy menstrual products over other necessities.
Girls like Donna, Ashley, Jess, Courtney, and Alexa give a whole list of products they use in place of feminine products during menstruation.
Socks (that would have to be cleaned)
These are just some of the substitutes for period products that women use when menstruating. I wouldn’t doubt that there are plenty of other substitutes out there that people have gotten creative with. If you ask any homeless woman on the street or at the shelters near you, I bet they will give you more insight into what they use when menstruating.
If You Can, Donate
Homeless shelters are often too full, especially during the colder months, to the point that there aren’t enough products to go around. The women there already have little to no access to menstrual products as it is, so why not help them out by donating some more? Whether it’s feminine towelettes, pads, or tampons, I think that the shelters and women there would be happy to receive them. You can even drop off some products at your local church if they host people in need sometimes. These women need your help and the help of others.
Want to know more about various forms of wellness no matter the circumstance?