Navigating Menstruation for the Homeless
By Alexandra Few
With a variety of options available, individuals who menstruate will use some type of menstrual product when on their period. Going to the store and purchasing some of these products are not often given a second thought to most, however, those who experience homelessness are not provided with the same opportunity. According to The Star, there are 204,500 women and girls in need of menstrual products in Canada and 86,300 in Ontario. As well, Plan International found that one-third of women who are 25 and under in Canada have struggled financially when it comes to purchasing menstrual products.
Period poverty, as it is most often described, is a serious concern facing those who menstruate. LGBTQ+ individuals in particular, who make up between 25-40% of the homeless youth population in Toronto face further barriers, especially when considering those in the trans and non-binary community and their access to quality and inclusive healthcare. Ensuring there are easily accessible and adequate products available, is vital to ensure the health and wellbeing of homeless menstruating individuals.
1 - Products Used by Homeless Menstruating Individuals
© Bustle | YouTube
Since menstrual products are not often readily available, menstruating individuals have to resort to using whatever is in their environment. From the video above, it is extremely difficult to do so, especially when there is limited to no products given.
A study conducted on menstrual hygiene in homeless women, in particular, found that the limited daytime shelter bathroom access and inadequate access to menstrual products, often results in the use of toilet paper as makeshift cloth pads. Within the study, a homeless woman describes that her shelter gives out two pads per cycle, meanwhile, the average woman uses approximately twenty pads/tampons per cycle.
The Star reported that a homeless woman who used newspaper as a pad, had rashes on her skin as a result, while others who are able to access tampons, often leave them in for longer than health officials advise, which could lead to toxic shock syndrome. These are just some of the results of lack or inadequate menstrual products. Having to make a decision of buying such products, especially knowing purchasing menstrual products will cause setbacks such as with food, public transit, clothing, etc., is unethical and invalidates the rights of that individual to have their basic needs met.
2 - The Monthly
The Monthly is a program run by Shoppers Drug Mart that offers free tampons and pads through a pin code-operated box. The four-digit pin is distributed to menstruating individuals who utilize the shelter system or who are accessing support from various services in Toronto.
Lisa Gibbs - Director, Community Investment at Shoppers Drug Mart says there are “three discreet boxes located in Toronto which are monitored in real-time by store colleagues at nearby Shoppers Drug Mart locations to ensure they are fully stocked.” Lisa adds that “while we’ve [Shoppers Drug Mart] been donating products to local shelters and food banks, we feel as though our boxes empower women to take more control of their health. Understanding that many homeless women are in and out of shelters, our boxes provide those in need with a safe option for what most people would consider a basic need for women.”
According to the Canadian Centre of Economic Analysis, more than seven million tampons and pads are needed by women and girls in Toronto. However, it would cost roughly $1.9 million to provide menstrual products to 22,000 women in shelters and low-income brackets in Toronto. As of last year’s budget, roughly $171.3 million is devoted to shelters and related services.
3 - The Period Purse
© HuffPost Canada | YouTube
The Period Purse is an organization that works toward achieving menstrual equality by providing access to free menstrual products through the distribution of a purse full of menstrual products and comforting items. Launched in 2017, with the help of many volunteers, the organization has distributed over 8,700 purses and over 7,800 refill period packs.
Jana Girdauskas - Founder of The Period Purse, describes that “right now, the city of Toronto is doing nothing, [since] there is a major shelter and housing crisis so no money is going toward period poverty.” She says period products are not in the budget at shelters or drop-in centres, and “therefore menstruators have to resort to homemade products like toilet paper, newspaper, socks, use nothing, or steal.”
Jana describes that “with TPP [The Period Purse] advocacy and the help of a champion councillor, the city passed the motion to support $2 million in period products to city shelters and drop in centres. We now wait a few months to see if it gets passed through the 2019 budget.” The Period Purse has positively impacted this issue in Toronto by giving to “65 shelters, drop in centres, health care centres, respites, and safe injection sites… also fully supporting twelve shelters in the city with all their menstrual needs.” Learn how you can support a menstruator, here.
© Red Dot Project Toronto | YouTube
The Red Dot Project has two main objectives that they want to ensure: women have enough supplies to manage their period & women are able to choose how they manage their period. Raising awareness and advocating for homeless women is something they strive to do by providing enough supplies to as many people as possible to best manage menstruation each month.
Stephanie Lim - Communications Manager at the Red Dot Project, says: “Up until this year, shelters have not received funding for menstrual supplies, therefore many of them relied on donations, and with the shelter system in Toronto being over 90% capacity, the need is now greater than ever before.”
Stephanie says the Red Dot Project “ensures that individuals are given enough supplies for the entire duration of their cycle, as well as we try to offer the choice between pads, tampons, or mixed kits” and their model “strives to operate in a barrier free manner.” The Red Dot Project is continually diminishing stigma around menstruation by providing education via weekly blog posts, podcasts, and participation in community events, and their service helps to “even the playing field and break down possible barriers that face menstruating individuals”.
Homeless individuals face many disadvantages when it comes to basic needs, such as food and shelter, and menstruating individuals shouldn’t face even more of a disadvantage for something that is a natural bodily function. Having the necessary products to use is extremely vital and it should not be denied or hard to obtain. Although Toronto is creating steps toward ensuring products are supplied, there is still a lot more that needs to be done.
The next time you see a homeless person, particularly someone who could be menstruating, consider giving menstrual products.