They sit on the grass under trees in the parks. They sit in filthy cars in front of City Hall. They sit on benches: park benches, bus benches, benches on the Promenade, benches on the Pier. They stand in doorways. They sleep in doorways. They rummage through trash cans. They panhandle. They visit with friends.
     They move around. Walking, shuffling, staggering. Often looking down. Usually alone. Burdened by bags and backpacks; pushing shopping carts spilling over with their possessions.
     They are distressed, calm, disoriented, rational, incoherent, articulate, filthy, clean, angry, forgiving, pretty, plain, resigned, hopeful, brave, afraid, unspoken to. They write poetry; they paint. They drink too much; they use drugs; they’re sober. Their families don’t know where they are; their families kicked them out; their families want them to come home. They come from far away; they are homegrown. They appreciate the kindness of strangers. They want to be left alone. They’re ex-cons. They’re churchgoers. They’re old and they’re young. They hate the cold, the rain, the wind; they stay out of the heat of the sun. They don’t trust the police. They had a job once; they never worked. One grabs at people as she walks by. Another howls silently. Many talk to themselves when they think nobody is listening.
     They’re always poor.
     They say they live outside because they don’t qualify for assistance; they say they don’t qualify for assistance because they aren’t insane or a drunk or an addict; or they’ll lose their freedom if they go inside; or they’re afraid of the men at the shelters; or the bank stole all their money; or they’re being followed by a man who assumes many shapes and identities; or the FBI and the CIA are after them; or they’re helping the police find a serial killer; or nobody asked them if they wanted an apartment and there are no apartments available to them, anyway.
     Many have a hard time knowing what they think, much less saying it, because their thoughts are muddled and their words don’t come out right. They hear extra voices in their heads, see things the rest of us don’t see, and believe things the rest of us don’t believe.

     Who are they? They are the homeless women of Santa Monica.

     How did so many women end up homeless on the streets of an affluent city in the richest country in the history of the world? In many cases, the conditions that caused the women to slide into homelessness are constants: poverty, serious chronic physical or mental illness—separately or in combination—complicated by addiction and their social, economic, and political environments. Many have been deteriorating on the streets for years.

     Homelessness is one of the pressing topics of the day, but soon something else will compete for the attention of the body politic: the next natural disaster, terrorist attack, war, recession, depression, immigration scandal, school shooting. . .And the world will continue to revolve while homeless women continue to sleep outside under a blanket of stars. The homeless women of Santa Monica are the homeless women everywhere.
 

 


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