For Unhoused People, Periods Can Be Impossible to Manage


For unhoused people in New York City, managing menstruation can be nearly impossible. They often lack clean, safe, spaces to tend to their needs, and menstrual stigma is intensified because of it. 

A new study co-authored by Professor Andrew Maroko (of Lehman College and the CUNY Graduate School of Public Health & Health Policy) explores the burden of menstruating while homeless. The research is published in Health & Place

“Concerns about the difficulties individuals experiencing homelessness confront in managing menstrual hygiene are not new,” the authors wrote. 

“People experiencing homelessness in the US, as well as other high-income countries, have described difficulty locating accessible restrooms not only for changing menstrual products, but also for bathing and washing blood out of underwear and other clothing.”

In 2019, the researchers interviewed 22 people (aged 18 and older) experiencing homelessness as well as 15 staff members at shelters, government agencies, and other organizations. The authors learned people experiencing homelessness struggle to “manage menstruation with dignity and comfort” without adequate spaces to change the menstrual products, bathe, and clean their clothes.

“In the time of COVID, a clarion call for clean and accessible public toilets is especially timely,” the authors concluded.

The researchers declared that, despite New York City’s efforts to make managing menstruation easier, improved quality of accessibility of bathrooms is needed. They wrote that both sheltered and unhoused people need expedited access to bathing and laundering resources. 

“Homelessness, and a lack of adequate access to bathing and laundering, particularly for those living on the street, intensifies the difficulties around the pressure ‘to pass,’ as someone who is not homeless in order to enable increased access to toilets, which you need even more when managing monthly menstruation,” said first author Marni Sommer (of the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health). 

“A constant threat of feeling unclean, combined with pervasive menstrual stigma, takes a toll on these individuals’ self-esteem, their confidence, their sense that they can be respected in the world around them, and even their ability to seek out services, training and work.”

Beyond SUM

Work By

Andrew Maroko (Associate Professor, Associate Director, Environmental, Occupational, and Geospatial Health Sciences) | Profile 1