According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), domestic violence is the number one cause of homelessness for women and families. Oftentimes, when women flee violence, they’re forced to leave their homes with nowhere to go. Numerous studies nationwide connect domestic violence to homelessness and suggest measures to end the cycle that puts women and children on the streets.
For those who have escaped or are trying to escape domestic violence, housing and financial instability are two of the greatest obstacles. Additionally, waiting lists for affordable housing are often far too long and shelters are usually filled to capacity, leaving them to turn away battered women and children. Furthermore, victims often have poor credit and spotty employment history as abusers prevent their victims from having financial independence in order to maintain yet another element of control.
While women of all incomes can experience domestic violence, women who contribute less than $7,500 to household income are seven times more likely to experience domestic violence than women who bring in $75,000, according to the ACLU.
Landlords can also evict victims when violence happens in the home and discriminate against individuals with protection orders, according to the National Coalition for the Homeless. In 2005, a New York City fair housing group found that 28 percent of housing providers either refused to rent to domestic violence victims or failed to follow up when contacted by an investigator posing as a housing coordinator for a domestic violence housing assistance program.
Much of this is due to “zero tolerance for crime” policies that penalize tenants for violence in the home, regardless of whether or not they’re the perpetrator or the victim. Women experiencing intimate partner violence have less access to money, and are usually isolated from their friends and family, leaving them no choice but to stay with their abuser.
With nowhere to turn, women either stay in abusive environments or return to their abusers after facing homelessness. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, more than 63 percent of homeless women experienced domestic violence in their adult lives. The National Center on Family Homelessness reports that nearly 50 percent of homeless women across the United States report domestic violence as the direct cause of their homelessness. For homeless mothers and their children, 80 percent of them report having previously experienced domestic violence, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness.
In 2001, domestic violence was the primary cause of homelessness in Missouri, according to the ACLU. Twenty-seven percent of individuals in Missouri homeless shelters were domestic violence survivors. Between 2014 and 2018, the number of individuals who reported domestic violence as it relates to homelessness rose to 47 percent.
When children are involved, 30 to 60 percent of violent perpetrators also abuse the children in the house. From 2012 to 2013, child homelessness increased by 31 percent throughout the country, according to the American Institutes for Research (AIR). Nearly half of homeless youth report intense conflict or violence by a family member as a contributing factor to their homelessness. Additionally, nearly 40 percent of all homeless individuals in the United States are under age 18. Homeless kids more susceptible to poverty, as well as more likely to be kidnapped and forced into sex trafficking networks.
How can communities rally around their members who are at risk and help them find safety and stability? There are several things you can do for an individual you care about who you believe is being abused. Support and nonjudgment are imperative. Social isolation is a tool of abuse, so it’s important not to be critical or judgmental even if the person stays in their abusive situation – they need an ally now more than ever. Even when the relationship is over, they will still need emotional support.
Additionally, it’s important to help them develop a safety plan, no matter if they’re staying, planning to leave, or have already left. Find a local domestic violence agency that provides counseling and encourage them to seek help from professionals.
Throughout all of it, respect their decisions, even when it’s difficult. Despite the best of intentions, pressuring someone who is experiencing intimate partner violence will come off as controlling – something they already endure enough of. The pressure is also frightening and might cause them to second-guess leaving. Furthermore, there are countless organizations to get involved with, donate to, or volunteer with if you don’t know a victim of domestic violence personally but still want to help.
If you are being abused and need help immediately, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE.
If you feel you believe you’ve been discriminated against in your housing situation because you are experiencing or have experienced domestic violence, call the ACLU Women’s Rights Project at (212) 549-2644 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about laws and policies that can protect domestic violence victims’ housing rights, call the ACLU Women’s Rights Project at (212) 549-2644 or email email@example.com.