Local News

Down economy puts more women on street, in danger

Posted August 12, 2009 5:00 p.m. EDT
Updated August 12, 2009 6:38 p.m. EDT

— 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.

"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.