“No woman should suffer the indignity of choosing between eating or buying sanitary items.”
Homeless women used to crowd into an Adelaide department store every day in the winter — but it was one lone woman that caught the eye of security guard Sue.
The woman had blood dripping down her legs, and a rust-coloured stain on the back of her dress. So when Sue saw her snatch a box of sanitary pads from the store shelves and stuff it into her worn backpack, she decided to turn a blind eye — knowing that for the woman with the stained dress, the cost of a box of pads might mean missing out on a meal.
Sadly, this woman’s tale — told to Mamamia by homeless women’s charity Share the Dignity — isn’t uncommon in our so-called ‘lucky country’.
There are currently 105,237 homeless people living in Australia, of whom 44 percent identify as female, according to Homelessness Australia. And while the male population of the homeless community is higher, there’s one recurring challenge homeless women have to deal with with on top of all their other struggles: their period.
“Gas stations and public buildings were my best friends, I’ll tell you that. I took ‘whore baths’ in sinks at gas stations and did my period business in there,” one formerly homeless woman wrote in a Reddit thread on how women living on the streets manage menstruation.
“We called them ‘pirate baths’ but yeah, beaches and gas stations have public restrooms. Hand dryers with the nozzle twisted upside down = hair dryers, and paper towels = makeshift pads,” another agreed.
One woman described making a tampon out of four or five squares of toilet paper rolled up tightly: “It’s gross and weird and pretty unsanitary, but it will keep your underwear clean, which is pretty important if you don’t have a drawer full of underwear,” she said.
Some had used menstrual cups as a solution, although there was debate over whether that was hygienic. “Cups need to be boiled every month to sterilize them, which not every homeless person has. Public restrooms aren’t set up in such a way that changing them is convenient (you often have to leave the stall to go wash it out),” one commenter pointed out.
It was a Mamamia post on this issue earlier this year that prompted Brisbane mothers Heather and Rochelle to start their own charity, Share The Dignity, to help women living on the streets.
“At that time of the month the homeless women tend to wear dark bottoms and really do make their own makeshift pads from either rags or paper towels,” the organisation’s co-founder Rochelle told Mamamia.
“Our team leader in the Northern Territory talks about women in Darwin using petrol stations to clean themselves up and staff there are also turning the other cheek as sanitary items are stolen.”