Monday, June 23, 2008

Homeless Women in Peril

There is something about the Toronto Star-liberal approach to writing stories about poverty that I don't like -- a sort of revelling in the stories of people living in poverty that is voyeuristic, that is about giving people whose lives are comfortable a chance to go "Oh! How awful!" with absolutely no danger of having to confront that fact that our comfort is directly built on that suffering (dramatized at a safely impersonal distance by the journalist) which therefore makes us complicit in producing that suffering. However, it is better than ignoring the issue completely, and this article, which is about a recent survey conducted in Toronto, raises some important issues about women's experiences of homelessness and poverty.

Highlites include:

  • Homeless women are 10 times as likely to be sexually assaulted as homeless men.
  • Homeless women are twice as likely to have a 'mental illness' as homeless men.
  • 84% of homeless women have at least one serious physical health condition.
  • Of the homeless women surveyed, "42 per cent didn't have a drug benefit card, 60 per cent weren't able to get prescription drugs to treat medical conditions and 56 per cent didn't have a family doctor."

It says nothing about root causes, and in fact I think this kind of article has the potential to be actively misleading about root causes in how it draws attention to issue that can be understood as about "health" rather than poverty and suffering produced by government decisions and the entirely predictable normal functioning of the economy. As well, I'm of the opinion that the stats they give for experiences of violence -- 37% experienced physical assault in the last year, and 21% experienced sexual assault in that time period -- are seriously undercounting the situation. But it is still worth taking a look.


Chrystal Ocean said...

Scott, don't know if you have backtrack set for you blog. Anyway, I've blogged about your blog. :-)

Anonymous said...

Thank you Scott!!

rabfish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott Neigh said...

Hi Chrystal...thanks for the link!

Thanks Harmony!

And hello to you as well, now-anonymous friend who has since deleted her's been ages since we've had a chance to catch up, so hopefully we can chat soon! :)

Scott Neigh said...

I should have added this clarifying comment ages ago:

What I have to say above is a comment on the article not about the research on which the article is based. The article falls into a particular mode of writing about poverty and homelessness that often appears in the mainstream media and that I find frustrating. However, the work that it was reporting on is very important, both because the content is an important record of the oppression and struggles of the poorest women in our society, and because it was done -- I have since learned -- in cool and participatory ways. So, please, read the article with a critical eye to the ways in which the standards of mainstream journalism and the dominant media frame issues of poverty and homelessness, and then use the valuable content from the original research as a basis for thinking and acting on women's poverty and women's homelessness.

(Thanks to RM for drawing this to my attention.)