Are women overloooked in the homelessness crisis?

Most of the time we associate the homeless with being male, but this past year, Oregon Gray Panthers has been hearing from many older female tenants who are dealing with fair housing issues vis-à-vis scofflaw landlords, and from those who have been evicted or priced out of housing all together.

Shannon Estabrook, a grandmother and excellent community organizer, tells us she believes there are far too few resources in the Northwest for women in terms of stable, permanent housing.

Please consider the following four examples.

Housing stability has been an issue for Julia, 55, who has a master’s degree but lives with a disability. At one point, Julia was sleeping in her car or occasionally sleeping at the nonprofit bookstore where she volunteered.

In our Gray Panthers network, and with the help of Disability Rights of Oregon, we were able to find stable housing for Julia in a downtown low-income building owned by Home Forward and managed by Income Property Management. After seven years, Julia was evicted from her unit in Portland’s Jeffrey Building. This winter, Julia has been sleeping at R2D2 — the Right to Dream Too, a local nonprofit outdoor houseless shelter facility near the Moda Center.

Nancy is also on disability and found living space in low-income housing in a building owned by NW Housing Alternatives and managed by IPM in SE Portland. Nancy is concerned about safety as she witnesses a great deal of drugs, prostitution and threats inside and outside the building. Because of her low-income status, and her dependence on using a walker, Nancy says she feels trapped in her building and has been unable to find a safer place to live.

Carol had lived in a nonprofit apartment in Canby, and found herself at odds with the landlord. Fortunately, Carol had a strong support network and was able to move to a better location in Coos Bay. But she reports that several low-income, older women in her HUD-subsidized building in Canby continue to face habitability issues including lack of repairs, retaliation against tenants who speak up, and male managers who harass, abuse and discriminate against female tenants. They also face extreme loneliness. Carol, now safer in her Coos Bay space, says that far too many low-income, older women feel both unsafe and isolated.

My final example focuses on Karen Batts, a 52-year-old African American woman who attended Grant High School and Portland State University. She had stable housing for seven years in an apartment run by NW Housing Alternatives. Karen was evicted due to alleged “behavior” problems. A spokesman for the landlord stated, “We do housing, not mental health.”

Karen Batts was found frozen to death in a parking garage in downtown Portland shortly after her eviction. Her last “official” contact was being cited by TriMet fare inspectors on the MAX when she was removed for sleeping across four seats. She was just trying to stay warm.

What is to be done? The less fortunate and more vulnerable in our society simply fall through the cracks.

Our response at Gray Panthers has been to start the Senior Housing Emergency — SHE — campaign as a way to advocate for older women and others who are marginalized in a laissez-faire, free market economy; and to secure resources that create viable shelters and permanent housing in “liberal and progressive” Oregon. In other words, we want to mitigate and eventually eliminate the “cracks” that non-millionaires fall into.

Fellow readers of this publication: Together, we can help answer the question, “What is to be done?”

Lew Church is coordinator of Oregon Gray Panthers and can be reached at or 503-222-2974.

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