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For unhoused women, life on the street is 'like living a horror'

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Carmen, who is currently living unhoused, described the challenges of life as a woman without consistent and safe shelter.

AURORA, Colo. — It’s tough to find a job when your main occupation is surviving hour to hour, and day to day.

“It’s like living a horror,” said Carmen. “Being out here is draining and difficult,” she added.

Carmen, who requested that Rocky Mountain PBS not use her last name, has been living on the streets on and off over the last few years after losing her job as a medical assistant. The worst part of experiencing homelessness, she said, is being a woman.

“Every day is a mission to wake up and find a safe place to sleep and find some food," she said. "And your other mission every day is to keep from being raped.”

Life is even tougher for unhoused women

Struggling to find shelter and food while unhoused is a challenge, as Carmen explains

According to a recent report from the Colorado Coalition for the HomelessinMay of 2022, around 3,000 women across the state are unhoused. Women are also more likely to experience homelessness than men; about half of all unhoused women say domestic violence is the main reason they don’t have a permanent home. 

To say that unhoused living affects a woman’s mental health is an understatement, said Carmen.

“It’s a constant battle living in the street, most people lose their minds living in the streets," she explained.

Carmen said it’s beyond frustrating trying to find a house and a job all at the same time.

“I’m a medical assistant but it’s difficult to go to a medical office when you haven’t showered, and you go to work in your uniform, but you haven’t slept all night because you are literally watching out for what’s going on," she said.

Unhoused cisgendered women also have a difficult time accessing hygiene products for menstruation, which creates even more challenges for surviving and living unhoused. Carmen said it’s often impossible just to find a bathroom to use. 

“We have to hold our urine because people won’t let us use the restroom and so we have to pee outside. We get kidney infections, and we get dehydrated. I don’t drink enough because there’s nowhere to go to the bathroom,” she added.

[Related: Study: First-time homelessness doubled in Denver area during 2021]

Carmen added that receiving medical attention can almost be impossible.

“We get sicker because we are out in the elements, and we can’t eat vegetables or take vitamins," she said. "We eat what we can, you can’t buy hot food with food stamps, so we eat stuff from the gas station and it all goes in one week because it’s expensive. This is the way we live.”

She also told Rocky Mountain PBS how being unhoused has created a mental health crisis for her.

“I have PTSD from being in the streets because cars follow me I’m in constant danger or being grabbed or being put in a van and taken away for sex slavery,” she said.

For Carmen, finding a way to survive every day is all she has room for. She described a night, recently, when she couldn’t figure out where to sleep.

“I went to the airport. It was the only place I could think of to be safe as a woman," she said. "I can’t be out here in the streets as a woman with all this crazy stuff going on that I have no part of and put myself in that kind of danger.”


Dana Knowles is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at danaknowles@rmpbs.org.

Lindsey Ford is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at lindseyford@rmpbs.org.

William Peterson is a senior photojournalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at williampeterson@rmpbs.org.

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