Being homeless and periods: Bleeding in the streets?

Menstruation takes place whenever and wherever. Month after month we are menstruating. No matter where you live or how you are living, the life inside your body keeps happening nonetheless. Without a toilet, some privacy and the needed products, however, your period is a whole lot harder than usually, even under normal circumstances. 237,000 people are homeless in Germany, around 30 percent of whom are menstruating. A figure that we would not necessarily expect in a welfare state like Germany.

Questions upon questions: From what money should the period products be paid for?

Whether we have a place to live or not, we keep bleeding. It’s a natural process. Because menstruation doesn’t stop on the streets. It doesn’t differentiate where you sleep night after night. This unfortunately creates completely new challenges: What money should be used to pay for the period products? And where can these products be changed in privacy? Where can the hands be washed? What is the solution if you cannot afford tampons or pads? Where can the clothes be washed in case a little blood has gotten on them? Questions upon questions, about which the majority of the population does not have to worry. For the 60,000 menstruating people living on the streets of Germany, however, these are essential questions that need to be answered anew every month. Answers and solutions must be found. Because the bleeding does not go away anytime soon.

DIY alternatives to tampons and the like?

If there is no access or money for ordinary period products, then (emergency) solutions and alternatives must be found. For that creativity is required and teh creation of a DIY pad must be improvised. How about self-made pads made out of toilet paper? Toilet paper is (usually) available in sufficient quantities at least in public toilets. Handkerchiefs or napkins are also possible as a substitute for pads. An (old) sock or other more or less absorbent materials can also help. But the possibilities are not really that great and can lead to infections if they are not clean. What would you do? Do you have any ideas how you could catch your bleeding in a hygienic way without spending money on menstrual products?

Being homeless and periods: Could menstrual cups be the solution?

At first glance, menstrual cups seem to be a good solution for homeless people. Because the cup can be used over and over again. Once bought or given as a gift, it can be used for years. However, the question of where the period product can be changed remains. Although the menstrual cup can be worn longer than tampons, it should be emptied and reinserted at least once everyone 12 hours. Problem number two is that a menstrual cup should be sterilized with boiling water for a few minutes both before and after the period. However, boiling stations are not really freely accessible to homeless people. Therefore, a menstrual cup may not be as practical as initially thought.

How can we help?

Maybe the topic of being homeless and periods made you think and you are asking yourself: How can I help too? Inform yourself and inform others. Talk to people about homelessness and menstruation, perhaps as well or even especially with those affected. Draw attention to the fact that people who are living on the streets menstruate monthly – just like the rest of us. Research who is working with homeless people in your hometowns. Food banks as well as shelters are a good place to start. They can give you information about what is needed. Collect money or materialistic donations to provide homeless people with the necessary menstrual products. You would certainly make the days of menstruating easier. Unfortunately, tampons and pads are not a luxury, but a necessity in the everyday life of many people. However, specific needs of menstruating people are often simply forgotten or not even recognised. It is not present in many people’s minds that people on the street have many other worries and fears besides food and accommodation. And menstruation is one of them.

Tips for reading and donations 

Unfortunately, there is still a lot to be done in Germany to ensure the supply of and access to menstrual products for all. Much educational work and advocacy must be done. If you feel like reading more about this topic, check out this article where people share their experiences with bleeding while on the streets. Unfortunately, their experiences are not particularly beautiful. If you have a few extra pennies and would like to give, you can donate menstrual products online here. And for the peoeple among you that are living in Berlin, check out Periodensystem – they do a great job and provide homeless people with free period products!

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March 24, 2020
Britta Wiebe ist die Co-Gründerin von Vulvani. Am liebsten recherchiert, schreibt und konzipiert sie den ganzen Tag neue Artikel oder innovative Bildungsformate rund um Menstruation. Wenn sie nicht in der weiten Welt unterwegs ist, genießt sie ihre Zeit mit lieben Menschen im schönen Hamburg. | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn | Twitter


  1. Thanks for addressing this issue and the questions raised. One way of dealing with the need to sterilize menstrual cups is readily available: anywhere you can get coffee or tea, you could request plain boiled water. Days For Girls Int’l is one of the groups providing a wash cup with every menstrual cup. Simply fill the wash cup, submerge the menstrual cup, secure the lid, and wait for 5 minutes, then remove the clean cup and dump the water. Every homeless lady’s situation is unique, but a menstrual cup + wash cup are a better option for most.

    1. Hi Christiane, thanks so much for sharing one possibility of sterilizing a menstrual cup in public places. I love the idea of having a wash cup and simply asking for boiled water – so simple, yet so clever!
      Best wishes

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