Homeless Women Find Power with H.O.P.E. 

Women's caucus collects donation items, raises money for self-defense classes.

Domestic violence, sexual assault, and other issues that pertain to women are hard to deal with alone, especially if reporting the abuse could lead to homelessness. But there's power in numbers.

That's the reason for the existence of the women's caucus within the H.O.P.E. organization, which stands for Homeless Organizing for Power and Equality. They're currently assembling care packages for homeless women, and they've begun fund-raising to pay for self-defense classes for women on the streets.

The caucus bills itself as a safe space for homeless women to work together on issues that disproportionately affect them, such as domestic violence, reproductive health, and other issues.

And it's much needed since services for homeless women in Memphis are few and far between. According to the women's caucus, only 25 beds are available to homeless single women without children. The lack of resources may force some women to stay with abusive partners or, alternatively, stay on the streets.

"When you talk to members, you can often hear in their stories all of the moments where, if things were set up better here in Memphis, they wouldn't have ended up on the streets," said Jamie Young, the new project coordinator for the women's caucus.

"The world needs to embrace women with or without children," Young said. "And, you know, some women on the streets had children, but gave [them] up out of love, believing the streets are no place to raise a child."

Young also said that some women's shelters dedicated to single women without children are so strict that they take away the women's cell phones and prohibit visitors. Some rules are "dehumanizing" to those staying there, she said.

"A lot of our members are transgender, and ... they have trouble finding employment. There aren't any shelters that will accept them. They have to be born into a family that supports them," Young said.

The U.S. Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime reports that, nationally, 22 percent of homeless transgender women reported being abused in shelters.

In mid-October, H.O.P.E. women's caucus member Alexia Taylor was in the process of finalizing her new home, but she was still sleeping behind the Sacred Heart Church on Cleveland Avenue. One night, while sleeping there, she was beaten, stabbed, and robbed.

Cynthia Crawford started visiting the caucus with a friend back in November 2012. What started as a belief that she could make a difference in her own life turned into one that she could make a difference within her community, too.

"We have grown," Crawford said. "We've really bonded. I consider them my support system, and I'm theirs. We try to be there for each other."

The caucus has been contributing regularly to a garden in Washington Bottoms that H.O.P.E. has helped to grow, figuratively and literally, as well as focusing on women-specific needs like self-defense classes for members.

"Women are particularly more likely to be victimized on the streets," Young said. "So women in our group have gone through some really traumatic events. The caucus formed for us to huddle together, hug, and heal from all of this, to be able to stand up straight and make our voices heard."

The women's caucus is in need of donations to assemble care packages for women in need: feminine hygiene products, baby wipes, lip balm, soap, hair ties, and nail-hygiene kits, among other items, can be donated to the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center at 3573 Southern Ave. Donations for self-defense classes, for which H.O.P.E. is trying to raise $800, may also be made at the Peace and Justice Center.

H.O.P.E. hotline for meetings and times:


Twitter updates on the women's caucus via SMS: 40404, then @womenwhohope

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