She is Albuquerque

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At the intersection, she walks up and down the divider with a plea written with a black marker on a piece of discarded cardboard: “Anything Will Help. Homeless.” The summer heat paired with insufficient consumption of water is a recipe for dehydration or even death, yet she persists.

Another woman on another side of Albuquerque rests in the shade of an awning while the traffic on Central Avenue flows from east to west and west to east. She massages her right knee until the pain subsides. The plastic grocery bags weigh heavily on her wrists and need to be set down for a bit too. Her family’s welfare depends on her resiliency. For now, she must rest but not too long.

And as the neon signs begin to buzz and the street lights cast their ashen spheres over buckling sidewalks, women who are experiencing homelessness become vulnerable to the violence of being unsheltered.

Women face barriers to health care that include homelessness, fleeing from abusive partners, immigration status, or substance misuse. They are less likely to have a regular provider, which can increase difficulty in obtaining treatment for addictions, mental health services, or screenings. Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless believes women’s health care should be of special concern.

In 2016, AHCH served 7,000 people who were experiencing homelessness and of that total, 36% were women; albeit, men are still over represented at 64%, according to the 2016 AHCH Statistics Summary report. Further, the New Mexico Coalition to End Homelessness Point-In-Time Count reported 412 women were experiencing homelessness on the night of January 23, 2017. With higher exposure to the elements, higher stress, hunger, and a reduced accessibility to proper health care, among other things, women experiencing homelessness will experience an increased incidence of illness.

AHCH Medical Director Sara Doorley, MD, concurs that statistics of women experiencing homelessness are alarming. Doorley also said she has treated women at AHCH who are survivors of domestic violence, women who have been physically and mentally abused, and sex workers. She believes the medical system at AHCH creates a safe space for women to easily access care.

Doorley said AHCH provides specific services for women. Those services include pap smears through the Women’s Outreach Program, screenings for sexually transmitted infections, mental health counseling, pregnancy tests, and treatment for any other medical needs. She said referrals have also been made to local shelters for women and families.

Another essential service provided for women is free HIV testing. Simply request a free test while at AHCH.

The 19th annual National Women’s Health Week also kicked off on Mother’s Day, May 13, and was celebrated through May 19. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health leads National Women’s Health Week to encourage all women to be as healthy as possible. During National Women’s Health Week each year, millions of women take steps to improve their health. The week serves as a reminder for women to make their health a priority and build positive health habits for life.

AHCH Registered Nurse Christina Montoya said women continue to return to AHCH to access further medical care or mental health services. In her 9 years as a registered nurse at AHCH, Montoya said wound care has been most prevalent in women. “When they come to us, we treat the patient as a whole,” she said. “We do what we can for the day, but we let them know they can always come back for additional services. And they do.”

Nevertheless, for women who aren’t able to access AHCH services at our campus, the Harm Reduction team conducts city-wide roving outreaches with a team, which includes a nurse practitioner, a registered nurse, a mental health specialist, and harm reduction specialists. The outreach team is able to treat the immediate medical needs of women on the streets, train and enroll women in overdose prevention services, and/or distribute menstrual health products at outreach sites. The AHCH Harm Reduction team conducts outreach every Friday at Central Avenue and Tennessee Street from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Albuquerque is a culturally rich city that despite its southwest luster, is a place where our neighbors experience homelessness. It is our mission to ensure we are meeting the immediate medical needs of our most vulnerable population, including women who are experiencing homelessness. AHCH recognizes that people experiencing homelessness have often experienced trauma multiple times. AHCH is committed to creating and maintaining a trauma informed culture.

For more information, contact AHCH at 505-766-5197 or visit our website at abqhch.org.

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