Impact Brief by University of San Diego’s Changemaker Hub x Think Dignity
As of 2021, there are over half a million people experiencing homelessness in the United States. In addition to a continual struggle to access basic resources and necessities such as food and shelter, individuals who menstruate face further challenges to their health and well-being. Those facing housing insecurity are often unable to afford proper menstrual products and may lack access to private and clean spaces to manage their menstruation. This leaves women and those who menstruate to resort to drastic and sometimes dehumanizing measures in order to access these materials. Furthermore, they may not have access to proper hygiene when changing their products. This is why Think Dignity, a San Diego non-profit that works to advance basic dignity for unhoused people, is working hard to find a solution. Think Dignity partnered with the University of San Diego’s Changemaker Hub to develop innovative concepts that could help increase menstrual product access for those facing housing insecurity. They then teamed up with GroupSolver® to run a study in order to better understand the challenges of managing a period when experiencing houselessness and uncover which of these solutions would best fit the needs of these individuals.
Managing a period creates major obstacles when facing housing insecurity
In our study, we collected insights from 168 respondents who menstruate and have experienced houselessness at some point to find out more about their experience. Our results show the alarming extent to which having a period disrupts the lives and well-being of those facing housing insecurity. Due to the high cost of menstrual products, 74% of respondents reported having sacrificed a meal or other necessity in order to afford these basic products. On the other hand, 93% have had to resort to using unconventional materials (such as toilet paper or socks) to make their own makeshift menstrual products. These measures can create increased risk of infection and further strain on personal health and hygiene. Being unable to safely manage a period can also get in the way of other responsibilities. We found that a striking 74% of respondents have missed school, work or an interview due to their period.
Menstrual stigma causes additional barriers in accessing products
Periods are widely and unjustly stigmatized in the United States which creates further challenges for those facing housing insecurity. In our study, 36% of respondents said the stigma around asking for products was a barrier to accessing menstruation products. Further, when asked about their experience of accessing and using menstrual products during times of housing insecurity, respondents reported feeling embarrassed, uncomfortable and frustrated. One respondent explained that they felt “Sad, embarrassed, worry. It was my time of the month and I was unable to shower for 4 days, it made me feel gross and embarrassed” which received 87% support from other respondents. In relation to accessing menstrual products, respondents emphasized that “It is important for cleanliness and your mental and physical health” (86% support).
Question: Please describe your experience with accessing and using menstrual products during times of housing insecurity. What words, phrases, feelings or experiences come to mind?
Individuals facing housing insecurity should never have to experience stress or shame when accessing materials that are vital to their health and well-being. That’s why Think Dignity has created multiple concepts that could potentially increase free access to menstrual products and alleviate the strain that individuals experiencing housing insecurity face every month. GroupSolver® helped test these concepts by getting the opinions of stakeholders who have experienced or are currently experiencing houselessness.
Creative solutions for increasing menstrual product access
The four concepts tested in this study all offer unique and convenient methods of accessing free menstrual products for those facing housing insecurity. These ideas include a mini pantry stand, a backpack, a bicycle with a cart attached, and mobile delivery truck that contains a variety of free menstrual and hygiene products.
The first concept, a pantry stand, would be placed throughout cities with high demand and would allow individuals to take what they need from the stand. While 61% of respondents stated that they were likely to use this solution, many were concerned that “It might run out fast” (75% support) and that “most people would take all or more than needed” (74% support). The backpack concept offers a slightly different approach, where each individual in need of these products would receive a backpack filled with free hygiene products from a local organization. 71% percent of respondents indicated that they would be likely to use this solution. Those that supported the solution indicated that in addition to providing free access to products “a backpack provides a sense of ownership” (75% support) and even believed “It will help with a woman’s dignity” (83% support).
The bicycle and mobile delivery truck solutions provide an additional and crucial benefit: convenience. This is especially impactful as 30% of respondents stated that transportation was a barrier to accessing personal hygiene products and 11% indicated that physical disabilities created a significant barrier. 60% of respondents stated that they were likely to use the bicycle, and many supported a respondent’s statement on the solution that they “think it’s perfect because not a lot of people can go shopping [because of] no car” (77% support). The truck concept evoked similar feedback with respondents indicating that “This would help out so much, to have access to hygiene products without having to walk far or take public transportation would be amazing” (72% support).
Overall, 65% of respondents indicated that they were likely to use the truck concept, however some noted that it could still be a little embarrassing due to lack of privacy in the interaction. On the other hand, some thought that “this is more private than the wagon concept” (43% support) and others indicated that the idea “looks ok as long it discreet and it’s not posted on the side of the truck” (51% support).
Reshaping access to menstrual products and restoring dignity
For individuals facing housing insecurity, having a period creates a myriad of challenges from the cost of products and transportation to menstrual stigma that can be damaging to their overall well-being. The creative solutions being explored by Think Dignity provide a new angle for tackling this crucial issue and making access to menstrual products safe, convenient and dignified. Although a finalized solution is still a work in progress, we found respondents were interested in all of these concepts, particularly the backpack and truck. This first-hand feedback provides essential insights into the needs and preferences of those who will be most impacted by these solutions. From here, Think Dignity can address this issue and leverage these findings in the development of effective and long-lasting solutions.
GroupSolver® would like to thank Think Dignity and other impactful organizations for the invaluable work they do to create positive change within the community and greater society. For more studies on important societal issues, check out our recent lmpact Brief on Epilepsy and the impact of social stigma.
Do you have a societal research question you’d like to study? Impact Briefs has your answer! We’ll help you design a study, collect data on the GroupSolver® platform, and share with you access to the platform. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more info.