Women now largest growing segment of homeless population in Santa Barbara

Free Women's Clinic

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A Santa Barbara non-profit is dealing with an increase of homeless women in the city.

Executive Director Maria Long of Doctors Without Walls--Santa Barbara Street Medicine said women are the largest growing segment of the homeless population.

"Women, especially older women, have not been able to retain jobs, maybe their spouses died, and their earning potential isn't great, so they don't have that extra safety net," Long said.

Santa Barbara Street Medicine offers a free women's clinic three Friday's a month.

Women are picked up from homeless shelters and various locations throughout the city in a van and brought to a safe haven with several volunteers, including doctors and nurses.

"It's a safe place for women to come get medical care, take a shower, and get their laundry done," Long said.

The women also get a meal donated by the Organic Soup Kitchen and are connected to social services.

There is also a sense of camaraderie and friendship.

"These women are beautiful," said volunteer nurse practitioner Jorie Nilson. "They have a lot to say. They have lives and they have stories and we share."

Nilson befriended a homeless women who came to the clinic every week for years. She was known as 'Mary' and suffered from amnesia following a traumatic brain injury. 

Volunteers would pick the 68-year-old up at the downtown library where she often slept.

We believe in treating the whole person. It's not just the physical, it's the social and the psychological and we give them everything here," Nilson said.

After years of care among several local agencies, 'Mary' eventually remembered her name, Kayanette Gabrielle, and was reunited with her family.

"This is not uncommon. It's a real miracle. There have been other women reconnected with their families," said Nilson.

But, as more and more women end up on the streets, the clinic is busier than ever.

Volunteers, doctors and nurses continue to hope for more miracles like Gabrielle's.

To learn more about Doctors Without Walls Santa Barbara Street Medicine, click here.





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