Homelessness and motherhood: when systems of support fall short

When you think of people experiencing homelessness, mothers probably aren’t the first to come to mind. Yet, they exist. Mothers experiencing homelessness illuminate one of the greatest truths of homelessness; that it can happen to anyone. Homelessness doesn’t have a certain look, face, or shape. These women exemplify that a myriad of social, economic, and relational factors converge to create the experience. It’s not a moral failure, it’s a systemic one.

We spoke with Dulce Pardo-Vega, one of the case managers at the Rebele Family Shelter to better understand how homelessness and motherhood intersect.

“I’ve been a case manager at the Rebele Family Shelter for two years, before that I worked at the front desk. I’m a mom, myself, so I could relate to a lot of the families here and I felt for the kids. The whole experience was very touching to me. I felt like I couldn’t do enough at the front desk and I wanted to be more involved.

A lot of families come from broken homes, so moms will come in here that have depended on their spouse or partner for a really long time.

I’ve also seen a big wave of single moms that are undocumented. And a lot of moms that are undocumented that come here have also experienced domestic abuse. And since they’re undocumented, they don’t necessarily qualify for assistance .

Some families that come in here are substance users and addicted to either drugs or alcohol, which is why they struggle to maintain a home for the kids.

The moms I work with feel a lot of guilt, no matter what age their kids are. They feel like a disappointment, like they’re not good enough. So, yeah, there’s a lot of emotion there.

I try to uplift as much as possible, I use myself as an example. I was really close to being homeless at one point in my life. And a lot was out of my control. I like to remind them that things happen and sometimes you can’t control it.

And even though their children don’t realize how much work you’re doing now, they will. And they just have to keep that in mind. And I always tell them ‘you being here and coming to your appointments and showing up, that’s you trying and being the best mom you can.’

I try my best, not to make my clients super dependent on me to get things done, I just get the ball rolling. I let them know that they’re in control and that this is their housing, and this is their journey.

I feel like women don’t get the help they need because of judgment. Landlords not wanting to rent to single moms because they think, ‘oh, they’re going to cause problems.’
If I could wave a wand and have one mindset shift, it would be to give people a second chance.”

For an in-depth analysis of the structural inequalities facing mothers experiencing homelessness, check out this 2019 scholarly article from UCSC graduate students Heather E. Bullock and Melina R. Singh.