SAINT JOHN – Many women complain about their periods, with good reason. It’s a minor monthly inconvenience.
But for homeless women, dealing with menstruation is a full-blown problem, one that can be panic-inducing, painful and humiliating. It’s an issue Bustle recently explored in their NSFWomen documentary series.
See for yourself:
The video has over 28,000 views and one of them was from Pamela Wheaton, owner of Saint John’s Heartbreak Boutique. The short documentary caused some self-reflection.
“It’s something so simple that many of us take for granted,” Wheaton says. “That was the thing when I saw it. I felt ashamed of myself because it never occurred to me.”
Wheaton knew she had to do something but wasn’t sure where to begin. Homelessness is a huge issue in Saint John, but exact numbers are hard to pin down, especially for women whose homelessness can be less visible.
“So I reached out to one of the women who works at Coverdale [Centre for Women] just to see if it was an issue in Saint John, because I had no idea if it was or not. She said yes, that it was a common complaint,” Wheaton says. “That’s when we started a group and started to talk about it a little bit more.”
Wheaton, along with five others, has created Code Red, an initiative that aims to provide feminine hygiene product to homeless and marginalized women in Saint John. From Nov. 25 until Dec. 17, people can drop off donations of pads, tampons and wipes at Heartbreak Boutique. From there the Code Red team will assemble monthly “period packs” that will be available at various locations throughout the city.
Kelly Morrell is another one of the Code Red organizers. Like Wheaton, the Bustle documentary left her wanting to do something.
“It was just really disheartening to see that video and to see that a lot of the homeless women were using socks, plastic bags, paper towel, absolutely anything they could find. And it was very common that they would have to do this almost every month,” says Morrell. “It was just awful to think they would have to choose between buying a sandwich to feed themselves that day or buying a tampon. It’s a health issue. It’s a matter of dignity.”
Code Red is still working on final details with community partners and organizations who will help distribute the products. The plan is for this to be an ongoing initiative, not just for Christmas. In the long-term, Wheaton said they would like Code Red to be registered as an official non-profit.
“The idea would be to have these locations as permanent locations where women will know that at anytime they can go to any number of spots throughout the city where they can pick this up so that they will never have to deal with that ever again,” says Wheaton.