Out in the Open

Getting your period while homeless

Homeless women discuss how difficult it can be to deal with your period when you can barely afford to eat.
#TheHomelessPeriod is a project in the United Kingdom. (TheHomelessPeriod.com)

Getting caught off guard without your go-to product — tampons, pads, diva cup — is something everyone with a period has experienced. Maybe your period came early, or maybe you just ran out of "supplies."

Homeless women experience this as a constant reality.

Eartha Downey, manager at the YWCA, says in some ways it's a matter of not thinking of it as a fundamental need. Because we don't talk about menstruation so openly, it's something that gets overlooked. "Women have admitted to me that they needed to go into stores and steal pads and tampons because they did not have the money or were staying in a facility that did not offer them those supplies."

Kaya is a 19-year-old who has been homeless since July. She's used T-shirts, socks, and toilet paper as replacements for sanitary products. She says it's awkward to ask people for them, even at drop-in centres if they're staffed that day entirely by men.

Another woman speaks of the financial strain of buying pads not just for her, but for her three daughters, too. She's had to be creative, using wash rags or a mixture of paper towels and toilet paper, which are unsafe options because of the potential for yeast infection.

Since this story first aired in September, Out in the Open received a lot of feedback from listeners, including from a woman in St. John's who told us it inspired her to start an initiative called Pads for People to collect and donate menstrual products to shelters and food banks.