New Data Reveals Crisis for Homeless Women Living in Skid Row

Los Angeles’ homelessness problem is worsening—but it’s particularly bleak for the homeless women of Skid Row, a new report finds.

The 2016 Downtown Women’s Needs Assessment reports that 90 percent of women living on the streets of downtown LA have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime, and nearly half have been attacked in the last year. They also tend to be older, in poorer health and disproportionately African American, compared to past years.

Study results illustrate the impact of housing on a woman's overall health and well-being, underscoring the need for more permanent supportive housing and dedicated services for women.

The study was led by the Downtown Women’s Action Coalition, a consortium of service providers and advocates, and based on surveys with 371 homeless or formerly homeless women aged 20-85 analyzed by the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work. The surveys are done every three years by the Downtown Women's Action Coalition to better identify what services are needed and how to deliver them. This year’s comes on the heels of a count by the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority that reported a 55 percent increase in the number of homeless women in Los Angeles County since 2013. That’s a total of more than 14,000 women living on the streets.

“Women experiencing homelessness have always faced unique challenges in our community. However, the alarming increase in the number of women impacted points to a far greater problem that calls for broader, systematic change,” said Anne Miskey, chief executive officer of Downtown Women’s Center, whose staff coordinated and wrote the coalition report. “More than ever before, we need large-scale investment in permanent solutions.”

She said women represent the fastest-growing group experiencing homelessness. The report cites a lack of affordable, accessible housing as one of the major causes of women experiencing homelessness – a problem exacerbated by lost jobs, rising rents or simply growing older. In situations of domestic violence, many choose the streets over staying with their abuser.

“This report serves to emphasize what many providers of services to homeless women already know to be true, and is a strong argument for focused attention from policymakers. It is to no one's benefit to allow homeless women to languish,” said USC Professor Suzanne Wenzel and lead investigator.

Miskey points to Proposition HHH (on the November ballot in the city of LA) and the $1.2 billion in permanent housing and services it would provide for homeless residents in this community and throughout the city as a crucial next step.

"The resources specifically for women in Skid Row are very limited," said Silvia Hernandez, community advocate and DWAC co-chair. "We need the help of people in the community, the leaders from the community, and the peers from the community, because they are experts. There cannot be any conflict of interest; the only interest should be the people."