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The values of mainstream American life were not forgotten by these women. They felt drastically out of place, demoralized by their inability to establish homes, find work and belong. The cruel realities of their own lives conflicted with their desires to fulfill the stereotype of wife, mother, and daughter. To have no place in the world made them question their very right to be. Sensitive to the stares and curiosities of passersby, they nevertheless were rarely critical of a society that did not provide for them. For those I did get to know, it was always heartbreaking to find that there was little I could do to help other than take them to the nearest shelter. Many times because of their past experiences in shelter, they refused to go. Time and again I would see women who had been homeless for only a short while fail to get meaningful assistance and gradually deteriorate.

In most large cities there are shelters for women run by public and private organizations. All homeless women are not in these shelters. There is not enough room for them. Few statistics exist about the exact numbers of homeless people in any city in America. But, every shelter providing services for these women reports that they must turn them away daily because there is no vacancy.

In many cities, shelters provide for the homeless on a restricted temporary basis. In Boston, for example, Harborlights and Rosie’s Place serve free evening meals, but the bed space is limited and a woman is permitted to stay only several nights, then must find her own accommodations. After a certain amount of time has passed she can then repeat the cycle. This is to encourage women to move out of the shelter and to find more suitable permanent place of residence. It insures that larger numbers of women will be serviced through the limited facilities available.

Other shelters also offer temporary housing for varying numbers of days. Women make the rounds, hoping to juggle the schedule of their days in and out among the particular shelters. Inevitably, though, the woman must spend a few days outdoors.

If there is a bed, and a woman can get into a residence, there are often further regulations with which she must comply. Many shelters are operated by religious organizations and require that applicants participate in services and religious indoctrination. Depending on a woman’s inclination and need she may or may not wish to pay the price of cooperation. Still other shelters look for a "better grade" of client, women who they feel have some potential for reform and return to am acceptable place in society. They accept and work with women who are younger, have fewer years of hospitalization, some capacity to find a job and have spent less time on the streets.

In contrast, Rosie’s Place in Boston prides itself on offering the women who come there problem-free services. Few, if any, personal questions are asked and a woman’s request is all that is needed for her to obtain a bed. She may be receiving welfare, social security, have a job or even another place to love, but if she is first in line at Rosie’s she gets a bed. All that is required of her is that she maintain a level of decorum in the dining hall and observe the six day cycle in and out. Alcohol, mental illness, and lack of cleanliness are tolerated within reason and there is an atmosphere of conviviality and friendliness amid the sadness and dire straits most of the women find themselves in. The largely volunteer staff is available to help with any problems of those who express some need, and there is an attempt made to connect women with social services and permanent housing. The Dwelling Place in New York City, and The House of Ruth in Washington are run along similar lines. These centers service the most needy and turn away no one if there is space available. But they have so few beds compared with the need.

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