SARASOTA -- Hundreds of women came out Saturday to celebrate the anniversary of the passing of the women's right to vote, while focusing on an issue currently affecting many women -- homelessness.
Manatee County Sheriff's Office Major Connie Shingledecker, honorary chair, introduced the event's guest speaker, but not before reminding women of how far they'd come.
"When I think about the status of women and what we have accomplished over the years, I am reminded of the rule of thumb," Shingledecker said. "There were some women that went through a great deal, and for that I am grateful because if it weren't for them I wouldn't be in the position I am in."
Saturday's brunch was attended by nearly 400 women from Sarasota and Manatee counties. The event, held at the Hyatt Regency in Sarasota, was hosted by the Sarasota and Manatee Commissions on the Status of Women and the Sarasota and Manatee Leagues of Women Voters.
Before the event, many local agencies exhibited some of the work they do and the programs they offer for women.
Shingledecker reflected on the struggles she endured in the pursuit of her career in law enforcement, which began
in 1977. She went to the academy at night while working the switchboard during the day. Then came her chance to start as a deputy.
"When I first started I was told, 'Well, you are going to be paid less than a man because you are not supporting a family,'" Shingledecker said.
Guest speaker Tina Steele addressed the women Saturday, armed with her near-homeless experience and the virtues her grandfather taught her as a young girl.
"You do the best you can for others, you help others," Steele said. The clinical anthropologist reminded the audience, which included a few men, of the moral responsibility everyone has to help others, as her grandfather taught her.
"When we are dealing with the homeless, we are dealing with individuals," Steele said. "They are not just statistics, these are people."
Age, both physical and mental disabilities and a lack of resources are all factors that can easily lead women to become homeless, Steele said.
Women, she said, are more likely to be laid off or to be pushed into early retirement; they generally earn 75 cents on the dollar and are not as likely to have the same socioeconomic support system as men.
In Florida, Steele said 12 percent of all residents are living in poverty, and the state has the second highest rate of foreclosures in the country, further increasing the odds of homelessness.
"One catastrophic illness can put you out of your home, one job loss, one serious accident," Steele said.
Steele told the story of one local homeless woman, Krista, who is facing significant time in prison. Krista, whose mother was a codependent and father alcoholic, was sexually abused by her older brothers from the age of 8.
The assaults became so bad when Krista was a teen that she chose life on the streets instead. The trauma of her childhood followed her and led Krista down a path filled with bad relationships, drugs, crime and mental illness. Although diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Krista never received treatment and at the age of 42 awaits her fate from a jail cell while her children are kept from her by her own family.
Krista, like many others, Steele stressed, need the help of others. Steele advocated for a 24-hour shelter where people could get the services they need, while keeping them off the streets.
"What can you do, it's time to dig deep and start supporting the agencies that help homeless," Steele said. "We don't all have money, but we have time and skills."
Dr. Mona Jain with the Florida Commission on the Status of Women expressed how she hoped young women would continue the efforts for equality.
"This luncheon is the celebration as well as the reflection on those women who struggled to get us the right to vote and paved the way," Jain said. "We hope that the new generation of women will have the gender equality and make us proud."
Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.