Tampons and pads are one of the least donated items for homeless women in the United States, despite being highly requested.
Many homeless women are forced to improvise with wadded up toilet paper or tissues or they simply go without. Shelters may do their best to get women hygiene products, but the supply is too low, according to Yeharar Vielot, the women's program director at Bridgeport Rescue Mission.
“I have encountered women who share stories of using newspaper, wadded toilet paper, etc. in order to control their menstrual bleeding,” Vielot said.
More than 11 percent of working class women in Connecticut live below the poverty line, on the verge of becoming or already homeless in 2016, Talk Poverty, an organization dedicated to covering poverty in America, reported.
Buying feminine hygiene products adds an extra financial burden on women that homeless men do not have to confront. The burden is more strenuous for homeless women with children, who make up about 60 percent of the female homeless population in America, according to data from 2006 to 2011 compiled by the Green Doors organization.
Tampon and menstrual pads make up a multi-billion dollar business in the United States, with each box of 50 costing around $9. Women in America spend more than $2 billion on these products per year and the average woman uses around 16,800 tampons and pads in her lifetime, the Robin Danielson Feminine Hygiene Product Safety Act states.
Even though Connecticut voted to remove the tax on feminine hygiene products starting in July 2018, the overall cost of menstrual products is a heavy financial burden for all women, homeless or not. The Huffington Post calculates that a single woman will spend approximately $1,773 on tampons alone in her lifetime.
Vielot said her shelter in Bridgeport gets about up to 10 boxes of menstruation products every other month. However, with more than 1,000 homeless women in the Bridgeport area, it can be difficult to adequately meet demand.
"Some even share finding a place to sit and remaining there, in one place, for hours to avoid embarrassing moments in public. It can be discouraging, frustrating, and sometimes embarrassing to the women who are unable to access these items without means of obtaining them," Vielot said.
One of the most expansive efforts to provide menstruation products to homeless women comes from the Young Women Rising (YWR) initiative, a project of the state run Connecticut Commission on Women, Children and Seniors (CWCS). Since they began accepting donations a year and a half ago, they said they have donated nearly 10,000 boxes of pads and tampons to numerous homeless shelters and food banks across the state.
"People don't really think of donating these products, but we’re working to change that," Michelle Noehren, the project manager for YWR said. "These women, they are so, so happy when they get these products."
On the YWR website, there is a link to an Amazon wishlist which allows people to donate the menstruation products virtually. YWR processes the Amazon orders, boxes them up and brings them to the homeless shelters or food banks. YWR also has designed a #ProjectPeriod Toolkit which gives residents the opportunity to run their own menstruation product donation events
Taking advantage of this toolkit, Elizabeth and Erika Herman set up a menstrual product drive at Loomis Chaffee High School.
“After reading several news stories about the limited access to menstrual hygiene products for many in the Connecticut area, we decided to collect period products for Project Period and raise money for the organization PERIOD as our senior project,” Elizabeth Herman said. "We are thrilled that this important issue is getting the attention that it deserves."
Their goal was to raise $2,500 dollars. But their community's generosity surpassed their expectations and by the end of the three-month drive, they had raised $2,831, providing hundreds of pads and tampons for homeless women across Connecticut.