Homeless women have periods. It is a fact overlooked by many people, but for those in question it is an unwelcome reality in an already uncomfortable life. JAMES BUTLER speaks to a woman from Southsea who is trying improve their plight.
What does Donald Trump have in common with Vicky Halliday?
The truth is, not a lot. While the real estate magnate has made headlines in recent weeks over his flippant comments about periods, Vicky is helping the women who need it most during their time of the month – those with no home.
The utility room of her Southsea apartment is an Aladdin’s cave of feminine hygiene products, with boxes full of tampons, sanitary towels, toilet rolls and toothpaste stacked above her washing machine.
And although she doesn’t have a magic lamp, a postman is enough to deliver the packages she prepares to homeless shelters and charities around Hampshire, granting a basic wish to many women.
One of Vicky’s aims for the project, called Go With The Flow, is to get people talking about the issue, which goes under the radar.
One woman called me a self-serving, heartless bitch for not helping the environment by donating mooncups instead of tamponsVicky Halliday, founder of Go With The Flow
‘The first thing people say to me when I tell them about Go With The Flow is “I wouldn’t have thought of that”, but then it becomes obvious,’ says Vicky.
‘It is just how my mind works I guess. I imagined myself in that position and realised what a rubbish homeless person I would be, because I would be thinking “where can I wash my hair” and “how can I clean my teeth”, and then I thought – what do women do during their period?’
With a background in the charity sector, Vicky knew she could make a difference. So she set up a Facebook page and a profile on crowdfunding site FundRazr for people to donate sanitary products or money.
Vicky says she was inspired by an initiative called the Homeless Period, which is calling on the chief executive of the NHS to provide tampons and sanitary towels to homeless shelters.
‘Hostels and homeless organisations get funded for condoms but not stuff like sanitary towels,’ she says. ‘If women are working in the sex industry then it is an essential but for day-to-day life sanitary products are necessary. You can’t avoid a period.’
Since Vicky launched the project this year, the Go With The Flow Facebook page has 1,243 likes at the time of writing and she has donated to organisations such as All Saints’ Hostel and Portsmouth Churches Housing Association in Portsmouth as well as charities in Plymouth, Brighton and Manchester.
Vicky started the project after her honeymoon to San Francisco in April, where she saw the realities of homelessness.
‘Some of it was quite horrific,’ she says. ‘There was a man who had no awareness of where he was or what he was doing. He had four pairs of trousers on and three coats, and he was asking if anyone could buy him a muffin. He was clearly wearing all the clothes he owned.
‘The locals were used to it. They would nudge people sleeping rough to check they were still alive and then keep walking.’
She adds: ‘The homeless situation there is just so obvious. When you are walking around you can’t tell if it is dog poo on the ground or human poo.’
Vicky and her husband Rich Lock stayed near a food bank with nine-block queues in the Tenderloin district, one of the most deprived in San Francisco. Shocked by what she was seeing, Vicky spoke to people living rough for a first-hand account.
‘There was this guy who was an artist, and I asked him why he didn’t take advantage of the projects that were available. He said that he didn’t have mental health problems or addictions but if he was living with 300 people who did, he probably would too.’
After this experience, Vicky worked with the Society of St James in Southampton, a homeless charity, and approached individuals in Portsmouth.
‘I started talking to a homeless woman and I wanted her input. Did she think what I was doing would help people? She got quite emotional and told me how to access street-homeless women, such as the hotels they stay in if they have the money.’
Vicky has met women in similar situations who explained how they dealt with menstruation.
‘A lot of homeless men will find them toilet roll or old t-shirts just to help out. They know how bad it is to be living on the street. When you are stressed and not eating properly you might not have a period for two or three months and then you will have a mammoth one. That is another reality.
‘People might argue they could use public toilets but we don’t have many in this city and some of them you have to pay for.’
While the majority of her donations come from the public, local organisations have joined the cause. Waitrose at Southsea donated £25 of toiletries, and Xerox Parking at Havant gave seven bags of donations.
Despite the support, there have been those who have criticised the project.
‘I have got into quite a few rows with people and had things thrown at me. One woman called me a self-serving, heartless bitch for not helping the environment by donating mooncups instead of tampons. When you are homeless, your first priority isn’t reducing your carbon footprint. Also, it isn’t practical when you can’t access running water easily to clean them.’
She adds: ‘There are a lot of do-gooders out there who will throw a bacon sandwich at a homeless person and expect them to thank them for it. But they might not like bacon. I would rather ask them what they want first and then work from that – which is why I donate tampons and sanitary towels. One woman I speak to said that it felt so good to be included.’
Behind every great woman is a great man, or something like that – and Vicky’s husband Rich has supported her all the way.
‘My poor husband has to put up with the smell of scented sanitary towels. He has become an expert on women’s hygiene – he now knows the difference between a sanitary towel and a panty liner.
‘I was a bit worried that men would feel it was a bit sexist but they know what an important issue it is.’
And if the people of Portsmouth continue to go with the flow, then Vicky can ride the wave of donations to make life on the street a little easier for women.