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Down economy puts more women on street, in danger

Posted August 12, 2009

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— The murder of a homeless woman outside a Raleigh church last month has heightened awareness of the dangers of living on the street, especially for women.

The body of Martha Hamilton Watkins, 54, was discovered on the grounds of Sacred Heart Cathedral in downtown Raleigh. Her murder is still under investigation.

Police say violent crime is rare in downtown Raleigh but make efforts to get the homeless into shelters. "Sometimes, especially with the women, they do their best to get them off the street," Capt. Kevin Craghead said.

Helen Wright Center for Women Shelters struggle to find space for women

"Some of these people are really accustomed to this way of life. It doesn't matter what you do to try and assist them. They're going to stay with what they're used to in their life. Some absolutely refuse to go to shelters," he said.

Jean Williams, executive director of the Women's Center of Wake County, said she has seen 22 percent more requests for help from homeless women as a result of the economic downturn.

"We've got to keep slapping on Band-aids because we've got to keep these people alive," she said.

The Women's Center and other county-supported resources are also victims of the recession.

"We will try to do more with less for a much longer time as opposed to cutting," Williams said.

At the Helen Wright Center for Women, Amanda Blue manages a long waiting list for the facility's 36 beds.

"If we had 300 beds, we could fill them," she said.

To meet the growing need, the Helen Wright Center recently limited stays to 60 days per person.

"It's absolutely devastating," Blue said. "It's by far one of the most difficult weeks here."

Fifteen residents will have to leave the center by Friday, Blue said. Shelter directors are working with the county's three other shelters that serve women to try and find them places to stay.

Both groups are trying to help women avoid the fate of Watkins. Investigators urge anyone with information about her to contact the Raleigh Police Department at 919-996-3555.


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  • Alexia.1 Aug 13, 2009

    cbarnett, Obama has been focused on jobs. The auto industry was one of the hardest hit, so he put emphasis there. Healthcare, one could argue, is a distraction. However, seeing my own brother working a full-time job and unable to pay to see a doctor, it makes me wonder: if America is supposed to be a world-leader in many ways, why do we have people without food, living on the street, and unable to pay for needed healthcare? Several "advanced" countries provide free medical care, free college education (all the way to a PhD), and a good retirement "pension" for its citzens. It is a shame we cannot work together to make America the *best* country in the world.

  • cbarnett Aug 13, 2009

    The gov. (Obama) should have left the auto manufacturers and health care reform alone and focused on these people who are losing jobs, their current health care and their homes. If they (he) had, there would be more people with jobs, health care and, they could have eventually bought a car. Or is that too novel an idea?

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Aug 13, 2009

    40% of homeless people have a serious mental illness. It's NOT just a lack of family. And, lose your job, get cancer, lose your insurance, your parents and spouse are gone, you're not the smartest person around...whatchagonna do? It's not that hard to become homeless...especially when medical bills are the single largest cause of bankruptcy.

  • Journey985 Aug 13, 2009

    Is it me...or does the headline make you think these women are turning into street walkers (prostitutes)?

  • vote4changeASAP Aug 13, 2009

    This is a result of the absence of a caring, productive family unit.

  • FoxtrotUniformCharlieKiloakaCALM Aug 13, 2009

    living on the street is dangerous for anyone not just women..

  • meh2 Aug 12, 2009

    This may be the first time since FDR that the news media has reported that there are homeless people when a democrat is president. There must have been a mistake somewhere...