‘We’re still people’: MM chat to Manchester’s homeless women struggling for dignity when their periods arrive

No one’s time of the month is enjoyable but for homeless women, it’s more about dignity and avoiding disease than stomach cramps.

In Manchester, homelessness seems to be constantly on the rise and period poverty is an ongoing battle for women on the streets.

Sadly, Manchester’s homeless women are still feeling shame and tell tales of extreme dissatisfaction when it comes to their periods, regardless of the countless charities trying to help.

Last year, Manchester City Council revealed to MM that homelessness had shot up 300% in the past five years – sleeping bags strewn over the pavement or slumped in doorways is far from an unusual sight in the city centre.

Among eating, staying warm and keeping safe at night, homeless women have another problem on their hands – what to do when they get their period every month.

“I’d probably just use a sock… or some tissue,” explained Fiona, who has been on the streets for four weeks after escaping an abusive relationship.

Fiona told MM that, like a number of other homeless women on the streets, her contraception halts her periods – something she is thankful for everyday on the streets.

In fact, it seems that many homeless women in Manchester are turning to the contraceptive implant – a 4cm long matchstick-esque device that sits in the arm for three years – in order to keep their dignity.

It might seem extreme, but most women can recall stories of red-cheeked-embarrassment from periods past, and when that happens relentlessly every month, it’s more than an issue of blushing.

But some women have periods that won’t be calmed by some extra hormones transmitted through their arm – so what’s the answer?

Well, according to period activists, periods should be free – whether that’s free of the scandalous tampon tax or free for those in need (such as asylum seekers, girls on free school meals or the homeless).

There’s been a lot of noise of late surrounding breaking down barriers, especially since Jess Phillips MP spoke openly about periods in the Commons last year and since 18-year-old Amika George’s #FreePeriods petition and protest went viral, which made glittery tampon signs, red dresses and shouting about our periods all the rage.

But taboos are yet to be broken like this in the North even though Manchester does have an abundance of charities and organisations whose chief aim is to combat period poverty amongst homeless women.

The aptly named group The Crimson Wave is one of them.

Set up by school friends Hannah Barnes and Trish Cartner, they hold regular period parties in the name of ensuring that women on the streets have safe and dignified periods.

They’ve crowdfunded their way to countless boxes of products, which they make into little packages containing pads, tampons and chocolates.

‘UNCOMFORTABLE, UNDIGNIFIED’: The Crimson Wave’s Hannah Barnes is campaigning for homeless women so they don’t have to worry about bleeding in public

Hannah said: “There are women out there who are choosing between food and sanitary wear and that’s not on.

“We’re hearing a lot about socks, tissue paper and people reusing items over and over again which can be extremely dangerous. It’s uncomfortable, it’s undignified and it’s not a way anyone should have to live.

“We take dealing with our periods easily and efficiently for granted but it should be a right for everyone to not have to worry about bleeding all over the place.”

The Monthly Gift is one of the better-known organisations – they collect donations of pads, tampons and other sanitary products from a number of donation stations and events, who then send the goods to The Mustard Tree for distribution.

Like The Booth Centre, The Mustard Tree is a key player in caring for the homeless in Manchester through unprecedented support in the form of donations and a true understanding of those on the streets.

It’s their work, along with handouts from organisations such as Coffee4Craig that help Manchester’s women retain their dignity on the streets.

A STRUGGLE: MM spoke to homeless women who said it was hard to find toilets they could change in

Confirming this, Louise, a 40-year-old homeless woman, told MM: “Getting products is easy… a lot of the public do buy us stuff and give us sanitary products.”

She explained that for her, it’s the reality of keeping clean when the time hits that’s the worst part.

“It’s difficult because, being on the streets, you’ve not got your own toilet to go to.

“You’ve got to get into places like hotels or McDonald’s and a lot of places won’t let you in if you’re homeless. It’s a struggle.

“Having somewhere to get changed and clean yourself up is not always easy but you have to grin and bear it.

“We are still people at the end of the day – just because we’re in a difficult situation it makes us no more human than anybody else.”

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