Homeless women a growing population in R.I.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

PROVIDENCE — Jodi Murdock did her nails Tuesday before applying for a job at the Providence Place mall.

“I hope I get this,” said Murdock, a petite 30-year-old who has worked for retailers like Lowe’s and Petco.

Her worry? Since May, she and her 58-year-old mother have been living at the women’s shelter at Crossroads Rhode Island. Most employers recognize her address –– 160 Broad St. –– as a homeless shelter, she said. She’s applied for more than 200 jobs “and gotten nowhere,” she said. “My mother has a job, and I need one. I need to save every check so I can get out of here.”

Murdock and her mother have plenty of company.

Women are the fastest-growing segment of Rhode Island’s homeless population, now at record levels, says a startling new report from Crossroads, the state’s largest homeless-services provider.

From 1999 to 2008, the number of single homeless women increased from 665 to 1,096, a 65-percent jump, the report says. By comparison, the number of single men increased by only 5 percent.

“We have these stereotypes of the homeless” which conjure up pictures of a 45-year-old alcoholic man, said Crossroads President Anne Nolan. “That’s just not true.”

In fact, women make up a third of the state’s homeless population, higher than the national average of 25 percent, she said. “It’s a huge problem that women face across the country,” said Nolan, who released the report Tuesday at a State House news conference.

Officials hope the 10-page report, which refers to women as the “hidden homeless,” will call attention to the problem and prod state leaders to do more. It calls for better and timelier data, and more programs centering on women.

“The numbers are rising,” said Michelle Wilcox, Crossroads’ chief operating officer. “We see this as a true crisis of concern to all of us, but particularly to women in our state. We all must realize, this could be any one of us.”

Nolan and Wilcox were joined by five other speakers at the State House: Governor Chafee, Lt. Gov. Elizabeth H. Roberts, General Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo, Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed and House Speaker pro tempore Elaine A. Coderre.

Gender discrimination, less pay for women and domestic violence are forcing more women into shelters, said Paiva Weed.

“Poverty is the underlying reason for homelessness. When you pay 50 percent of your income on rent, that’s when you find yourself in poverty. When you can’t afford health care, that’s when you find yourself in poverty. When you can’t afford daycare, that’s when you find yourself in poverty.”

Homeless advocates will get help soon.

Just before the news conference, Chafee signed an order to revive the defunct Interagency Council on Homelessness, created to help state officials better coordinate efforts to reduce the state’s homeless population and provide people with permanent supportive housing. The council stopped meeting in 2009.

More women are sleeping in shelters because of the recession and record unemployment, Chafee said. “Our task is to get this economy going.”

According to the Crossroads report, women in past years have cited domestic violence as a chief reason for seeking shelter.

But in the last eight years, women have cited high housing costs and income loss as factors leading to their homelessness.

Many have lost their homes through foreclosure, the report says. Most of the women seeking shelter come from those cities with the highest foreclosure rates: Providence, Pawtucket, Cranston, Woonsocket and Warwick.

The problem worsened in early 2007, when officials closed Welcome Arnold, the state’s 116-bed homeless shelter for men and women. Many of those sleeping at the Cranston shelter moved to Crossroads.

A year later, Crossroads opened a 41-bed women’s shelter. “It filled the next day,” said Nolan. Since then, the shelter has housed up to 60 women nearly nightly. Some women now sleep in a dining room.

The numbers show no sign of decreasing.

This January, 83 women entered the shelter at Crossroads, up from 68 women in January 2010, a 22-percent increase.

Crossroads, which provides case management, counseling, job training and permanent housing, has done much to help women rebound. But the services offered by Crossroads and other agencies “is woefully inadequate in comparison to the demand,” the report says.

Murdock and her mother moved into the Crossroads shelter last May, after Murdock’s mother lost her job because of an injury. Murdock quit her own job to care for her mother. When they couldn’t find new jobs, they moved to Miami.

But Florida “was going through a very harsh recession,” said Murdock, who slept outside on a dock at one point.

At Crossroads, Murdock has taken a job-preparation course and a class designed to help the homeless get jobs at animal shelters, pounds or pet-grooming centers.

“I’m using whatever knowledge I can to get out of here,” said Murdock, who grew up without a father in a poor neighborhood in New Bedford. “I’ve had a hard life, but being homeless is the worst. In the inner city, as least we had an apartment. At least we had food.”

BY THE NUMBERSWhy women are homeless

The women sleeping in the shelter at Crossroads Rhode Island list the following reasons for why they are homeless:


29 percent


26 percent

Unable to pay the rent

or mortgage

13 percent

Domestic violence

13 percent




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