By Rosi Andrade
Chronic homelessness impacts women’s lives in quite different ways than it often impacts men. For example, a 23-city report by the U.S. Conference on Mayors found that “domestic violence is the primary cause of homelessness for women” and the “impact of violence is cumulative: women who have experienced or witnessed greater numbers of abusive events report higher rates of eating-related problems, greater incidence of STDs and hepatitis, overall poorer self-rated health status, earlier involvement in crime, and more arrests” (2007). The CREATE (Confidence, Readiness, Empowerment, Action, Transformation, Engagement) program is a local collaboration between Sister José Women’s Center and SIROW and was borne from an acute awareness of the debilitating effects of poverty, trauma and homelessness for women, as well as collective willingness to challenge those effects through research and programming.
After Jean Fedigan, Penny Buckley (Sr. Jose Women’s Center) and Rosi Andrade (SIROW) conducted a community needs assessment (a survey to determine what actions and resources were most needed), the team developed programming specific to women experiencing homelessness. In September 2017, Sister José began to pilot the CREATE program which is a 26-week residential program for homeless women who earn a modest stipend while participating in a unique curriculum of life skills, job readiness, creative and expressive arts, wellness, and literacy. Through CREATE, women are given tools and space to find their voices and renew their confidence and personal identity while completing tasks vital to moving towards self-sufficiency with the support of a coach. The impact of the CREATE Program has been very exciting and inspirational!
Research informs practice in the CREATE project by utilizing a participatory action research model that includes daily reflection on the day-to-day program activities. By making a note of daily activities and outcomes, the team is able to make immediate improvements to the program. For example, in June 2017, upon evaluating the health impact of 110°+ outdoor temperatures and pending monsoon rains, Sister José Women’s Center initiated the Monday to Sunday overnight program to provide women a safe place to be during the impending harsh weather conditions.
The center’s response to ameliorating the living conditions of homeless women has its roots in its namesake, Sister José Hobday, a Franciscan nun who dedicated her life to helping people living in poverty. The care and respect that guide the center, and its collaborative curriculum with SIROW, are reflected in practice and often iterated in women’s feedback that Sr. Jose is a safe place that separates the women from the stressors of being homeless. The findings of the pilot CREATE curriculum are guiding the development of gender-specific services that meet the goal of helping the women move beyond basic survival to personal growth and skills development.