Rising housing costs and inflation have contributed to housing instability in Boston — and women who face homelessness often bear added burdens. Women's Lunch Place is a nonprofit day shelter and advocacy center that serves over 2,000 unhoused women each year, providing things like meals, refuge and community. Executive Director Jennifer Hanlon Wigon and Lee Pelton, president and CEO of the Boston Foundation spoke with GBH’s Morning Edition co-host Paris Alston, who is moderating the organization’s eat LUNCH give fundraiser Friday. This transcript has been lightly edited.

Paris Alston: Great to have you with us. And just to note that Lee is a member of the GBH board of trustees. So, Jennifer, I'm going to start with you. What is the current need that Women's Lunch Place is meeting?

Jennifer Hanlon Wigon: Sure. Well, we are serving more women than we ever have. We are serving more meals than we ever have. We are having more advocacy interactions than we ever have. The population of homeless women in Boston is growing. It's also aging, which is creating new health [issues] and issues around housing and accessibility for this group of women. So it's definitely surging. You know, last year, 40% of our guests were new to Women's Lunch Place. And that's different than in the past where the population was more stable. So we're really on the front lines responding to this crisis.

Alston: And Lee, that statistic just goes to show how much the housing crisis has grown in recent years. What does the latest research tell us about how women specifically fit into our current housing and homelessness crisis?

Lee Pelton: The cost of housing continues to increase. We all know that. The number of cost burden households is increasing at a record rate, and cost burden means 30% or more of your income is for rental or your mortgage. So that has dramatically increased. More than 50% of all renters in Greater Boston were cost burdened as of last year, and that's more than half of the renters and a quarter of homeowners in Boston. And then, of course, housing instability is increasing for women. And it's I think everyone's probably aware of the latest report that shows that people are fleeing Boston because they really can't afford to live here anymore.

Alston: So, Jennifer, given that, what is gender-specific housing and why is it needed?

Hanlon Wigon: In terms of homelessness, 90% or more of women who are homeless have experienced deep trauma through violence: Sexual and physical assault, often rooted in childhood trauma. And the effect of that on women's health, their trust, their cognitive capabilities is really dramatic. And we know that when we can incorporate trauma informed care and harm reduction in a gendered space, that women can feel safer and they can move forward. And we know that there's research that shows that in gendered housing situations, women heal more dramatically. And that's why we're trying to put this context around housing and gendered space. So that we do really focus in on the unique drivers of women in homelessness and poverty. You know, we do serve, a substantial population of women who are housed but living in poverty. And we are the difference. You know, when Lee talks about the rental rates and what's driving the housing situation in Boston, we can be the difference between a woman being able to pay her rent or buy the prescription that she needs for her health.

Alston: And Jennifer, does offering this these services, tailored to specifically for women, take away from offering them to other people who may need them?

Hanlon Wigon: I don't see that. And I think that it's really important, that we recognize the impacts of discrimination on our population as a whole. But when you look at that in terms of the intersection of racial discrimination and gender discrimination and the lack of access to social determinants of health for the women we serve, that gender lens is really important. And it doesn't mean that there aren't, you know, important solutions for men. But we are serving an extremely vulnerable population.

Alston: And, Lee, we know so often when we talk about issues of equity, right, when we are alleviating those issues that affect the most vulnerable of our populations, there are benefits that extend to all of us. How do you see that happening in this case?

Pelton: You know, first of all, I would say that the poor are constantly exposed to the evidence of their own irrelevance. And so it's a part of our society that we neglect, and it's also part of our society where we think that individuals, you know, bring this on themselves. And that's simply not true. People and women become homeless for a variety of reasons beyond their ability to control and predict. I would say that a place to call home is a human right. It's safety, it's warmth, it's sustenance. It's shelter, it's community. And what's so wonderful about the Women's Lunch Place is that it creates the community for women. And it's a first step for many of these women to begin to feel safe and being able to rebuild their lives.

Alston: So, obviously, the question, the issue of housing security is ever-present in the minds of Massachusetts residents right now because our emergency shelter system is overwhelmed. And we know that there are so many reasons that can contribute to someone being housing insecure. But Lee, at large, do we have the resources and infrastructure required to meet the current need in the state?

Pelton: Well, we certainly have the will. You know, the the so-called bond bill, the housing bill, that the governor has put forward is really ambitious, seeks to create, 200,000 new homes over a period of time. And also, in Boston, under the mayor's leadership, there is an effort to, through the MBTA Communities Act, which require suburban communities to adapt their land use qualities and zoning around MBTA stops to create more housing. So, we have the will, and, you know, the issue will be, of course, whether or not we'll be able to find the resources.

Alston: So lastly, Jennifer, I mentioned at the top that, of course, the three of us will be in conversation to talk more about this this afternoon as part of Women's Lunch Place's eat LUNCH give event. What do you hope people take away from this today?

Hanlon Wigon: You know, I hope that they learn about the larger housing picture in Greater Boston. And I hope that they learn about the women who come to Women's Lunch Place. You know, Lee mentioned community and how important that is. It's about how we all can step in to this crisis and find solutions that work, globally, but also down right on the ground, one woman at a time.

Alston: Well, that was Jennifer Hanlon Wigon, executive director of Women's Lunch Place, along with Lee Pelton, president and CEO of the Boston Foundation. Thank you both so much. Looking forward to today.

Hanlon Wigon: Thank you.

Pelton: Thank you.