by Charlene Rainey-Bell, FNP-C
Imagine, it’s that “time of the month” and your homeless! For a homeless woman of menstruating age, menses brings a week of struggling, not only to find a way to handle the physical and emotional symptoms, but to also contain the flow of blood, as tampons and pads are expensive and for most homeless women, completely out of reach. Many times, this means relying on fashioning makeshift “pads” of sorts, made from toilet paper or paper towels scrounged from public restrooms and even resorting at times to socks, rags or brown paper bags.
When you are homeless, there is no comfort to be had from a warm shower, no retreat into your private bedroom where you can relax with a heating pad and certainly no visit to your personal physician to get a prescription for pain relieving medication if needed. Then there’s the issue of simple cleanliness to think about, as there is also no relief from the constant threat of disease associated with the repeated use of unsanitary materials, such as yeast infections, urinary tract infections, vulvar dermatitis or worse death, not to mention an unpleasant odor, which can occur when the genital area is not cleaned daily.
Forget for a moment the comfort a warm bath would bring and just focus on how you would feel if you had your menses and couldn’t bathe, except maybe to hurriedly wipe yourself with a wad of cold wet paper towels in the stall of a public restroom. For a homeless woman and for the approximately 169,000 homeless women like her who are living on the streets on any given night in the United States, this miserable scenario is relentlessly repeated each and every month, twelve times throughout the year.
A box of tampons costs about five to seven dollars and for the woman who is homeless, the choice is all too often between buying them and having something to eat. To make matters worse, in forty states, menstrual supplies such as pads and tampons are classified as non-essential “luxury” items, further adding to their cost, while Viagra, a medication that treats erectile dysfunction, is taxed in only one state! Plus, even if a woman has access to food stamps (SNAP), feminine hygiene products cannot be purchased with this money.
That’s why in 2017, I started Her Padded Truth, a nonprofit organization geared toward providing women who are homeless, in transition, and living in impoverished conditions with menstrual hygiene products. We are geared to ending menstrual shaming and educating communities and government on the unfair “pink tax” that women are subjected to in many states. We are a grassroots movement making a huge impact in the state of Virginia. Since starting we have donated over 10,000 menstrual hygiene products to women across the Hampton Roads area and abroad. The goal is to bring awareness and remove the shame of the stain.
Charlene Rainey-Bell, FNP-C
The Vaginal Health Enthusiast
For more information on Her Padded Truth and to donate to this movement follow us on all our social media platforms: