The HIV Risk Reduction Needs of Homeless Women in Los Angeles

Published in: Women's Health Issues, v. 23, no. 3, May-June 2013, p. e167-e172

Posted on RAND.org on May 01, 2013

by Julie A. Cederbaum, Suzanne L. Wenzel, Marylou Gilbert, Elizabeth Chereji

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BACKGROUND: Substance use, housing instability, and transactional sex all contribute to HIV risk engagement among homeless women. Because of the increased risk of HIV among homeless women, this study sought to understand the context of sexual behaviors and condom use among homeless women and elucidate modifiable factors that can be targeted by interventions. METHODS: Homeless women (n = 45) participated in focus groups (n = 6) at shelters throughout Los Angeles County. Thematic analyses revealed that similar to other high-risk women, homeless women engage in sex with multiple types of partners (steady, casual, and transactional). FINDINGS: Our findings indicate that, similar to use among other high-risk women, condom use by homeless women varied by type of partner. Substance use also contributed to condom non-use. In a departure from previous research, homeless women reported overarching feelings of hopelessness. Participants spoke of hopelessness contributing to risk engagement, specifically the number of ongoing stressors experienced because of homelessness contributing to despair. Without acknowledgement of this unique quality of homelessness, women felt their risk reduction needs would never truly be understood. CONCLUSIONS: Interventions involving homeless women should include self-esteem building, acknowledgment and use of inherent resilience qualities gained during homelessness, respect for current knowledge and skills, and an exploration of when women choose to trust their partners and how they make safer sex choices.

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