San Bernardino, CA
San Bernardino will become the first county in the nation to implement a program specifically designed to treat unaccompanied homeless women as a “special population.”
In recent years, the county successfully maintained special focus on homeless veterans and made significant strides in the reduction of its veteran’s homeless population. The 2017 Point in Time Count showed homelessness in the community dropped by nearly twenty percent since 2013.
Last July, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the implementation of a strategy to permanently house all the county’s homeless veterans. The focus yielded results almost immediately. When the decision was made, there were approximately 400 homeless veterans in the area and by the end of the year that number was already reduced by more than half with 56 percent having secured permanent housing. Such substantial progress was a clear indication that having the appropriate focus can make a difference.
With the laser focus on homeless veterans and even as the count of homeless in San Bernardino County overall has ticked downward year over year, one demographic among them has not—unaccompanied homeless women.
San Bernardino County homeless expert Philip Mangano told reporters, “What works for a homeless veteran doesn’t always work for women living alone. In 90 percent of cases, unaccompanied homeless women have experienced physical or mental abuse.”
Mangano’s comments were based on research conducted by the Downtown Los Angeles Mission. He continued, “Half report being attacked in the last year and any approach that leaves them vulnerable to further attacks, can cause them to withdraw.”
Research has already pointed to some of the first steps the county might consider as it embarks on this strategy. Included among them—making sure women are included as part of the outreach teams–as Mangano stressed, “It’s at the hands of males that they’ve [women] suffered so much in childhood and later life, so if you have male engagement workers, these women are not enamored of that.”
The Office of Urban Initiatives reported about 25 percent of all homeless individuals are unaccompanied, homeless women. As a pioneer in designating women as a special category of homelessness, what is learned by San Bernardino County owed to this focus, is certain to be shared nationally.