The city commissioner’s office is planning health-oriented workshops during May to educate homeless women
March 10, 2010 -- Portland City Commissioner Amanda Fritz’s office is planning a series of health-oriented workshops for homeless women that will give an unprecedented focus on their health.
“Spending on women’s health is less [and] there are fewer services for women in Portland in some ways,” said Fritz, who’s collaborating with service providers and advocates.
“The goal is to educate these women about services available to them,” said her policy advisor, Sara Hussein.
Recently the Portland City Council voted unanimously to accept a $2,500 grant from the Department of Human Services Regional Offices on Women’s Health. Those funds will provide female hygiene supplies and food for nutritional cooking classes.
Workshops will be held during National Women’s Health Week from May 9-15 on topics such as preventive healthcare, reproductive health, safe sex and how to meet basic healthcare needs.
Women can also receive free pap tests and cervical and pelvic exams at Oregon Health & Science University through its Center for Women’s Health. “Our objective is to help people understand why getting a pap test is important, and link them with a really easy way to get one,” said Lisa Isabell, health education resources manager.
Homeless people are in much poorer health than people with housing. “There’s a lot of barriers doing day-to-day things, let alone taking care of your health,” said Isabell.
A survey by the Portland Housing Bureau assessed the health of 646 homeless people in October 2008, and found that 231 people had a condition called “tri-morbidity”—the co-occurrence of a physical illness, mental illness and substance abuse. There are approximately 414 homeless women in Portland.
The most common health problems among homeless women are diabetes, cancer, foot and back problems and reproductive-related illnesses, according to Shannon Singleton, director of the Salvation Army’s women’s shelter.
Homeless women are frequent victims of sexual and physical assault, she said, and many don’t report the assault to the police or seek medical treatment. “There’s a perception that people don't have control and can't manage their health,” said Isabell.
Fritz’s office is collaborating with service providers to create these workshops including Rose Haven, a day program for homeless women, the Salvation Army’s women’s shelter, Dinner and a Movie, which provides services to homeless youth, and Home PDX, a church run by the homeless.
Healthcare is one of Fritz’s main focuses as a city commissioner, partly due to her background in health and psychiatry. Earlier she spent 22 years as an inpatient psychiatric nurse at OHSU.
Fritz also favors increasing the number of public bathrooms in downtown Portland for several reasons slightly different—and more intimate—than business owners and social service providers. “During [women’s] cycles, it's going to be really difficult if you don't have a bathroom,” she said.