Beatings, verbal abuse, stalking, rape: in the United States, domestic violence is one of the primary causes of homelessness for women and children.
Exact numbers vary. While some estimates indicate more than 30% of women and children experiencing homelessness have also experienced domestic violence (DV), other studies suggest the number is closer to 80%. There is no question that many women decide to take their children and run, yet quickly find themselves living on the street with few options available to them.
The link between homelessness and domestic violence
When women escape their abusers and leave, many report having experienced extreme anxiety about where to find safe housing and how to pay for it. Too often, because of these housing concerns, and for the sake of their children, other women stay and endure the attacks.
It is not uncommon for abusers to use violence to intentionally isolate their partners from family and friends. So, when it comes time to get out, these survivors have been cut off from their support systems. They have no friends, no family, no place to go and no money to live on. Shelter space is scant. The National Association to End Homelessness (NAEH) reports that on one night in January of 2017, only 55,000 shelter beds were available nationwide. There has not been much improvement since.
Without shelter, women and other domestic partners escaping violence face truly horrible options. They might get into shelter, but waiting lists are long. If they can’t, they – and their children – might find themselves living out of a car, doubled-up in someone else’s home or in another form of sub-standard shelter. Lack of secure housing can mean living with the constant risk of losing their children to the state’s Department of Child Safety. Returning to the abuser means continued attacks or worse; death.
Consequences are profound for their children, too. Kids traumatized by domestic violence are at much greater risk for depression, anxiety, developmental delays and learning disabilities, and are much more likely to drop out of school. Homeless children experience the multiple effects of poverty – inadequate medical and dental care and often chronic illnesses like asthma. As they move into adulthood, children who witnessed violence between parents are more likely to repeat that behavior with their own spouses.
It’s hard to find a home or a job
A greater number of landlords have adopted a ‘zero tolerance’ crime policy. At first glance, that might sound like practical wisdom, but there’s a dark side: many landlords refuse to rent to victims of domestic violence. They do it out of a fear of liability, that the prospective tenant’s attacker might find and injure her or damage the rental unit. And, for a variety of reasons, tenants who have experienced domestic violence are much more likely to be evicted. (In the Phoenix area, 44,000 households were evicted in 2018, although it is not known how many of those families were also experiencing – or running from – domestic violence.)
The lack of housing creates a cluster of problems that makes it even harder to find a job. Many employers require a permanent address before they’ll make an offer of employment. Often, people escaping domestic violence must use a fake name to limit the chances their attacker will find them which, in turn, makes it nearly impossible to produce the kinds of identification and documentation of prior employment that most companies expect.
Even if a victim finds work, they still have to get to and from the job, still needs to get the kids to and from school, and if the children are very young, they will still need someone to look after the kids. Limited transportation options and expensive childcare have a compound effect that leaves many victims overwhelmed and hopeless.
Solutions: what can we do to help?
The Halle Women’s Center at UMOM New Day Centers is the only shelter in Maricopa County designed exclusively for single women experiencing homelessness, many of whom have also been affected by domestic violence. In fact, in the first quarter of 2019, 120 out of 132 residents at Halle reported either a recent DV attack or a history of domestic violence.
The Women’s Center provides secure housing and uses a comprehensive, 360-degree approach to address barriers to housing and work.
“From the moment they arrive, we’re constantly working with them on housing and employment,” said Mila Valle, who manages Halle. “Many women tell me that without the support, motivation and constant encouragement from their case manager, they’d never feel empowered to make the change. With this experience, nearly all our residents exit to a permanent living arrangement and a job that will sustain it.”
Yet, for women with children facing domestic violence, resources are severely limited. Some estimates suggest that, on any given night, half of the requests for shelter cannot be met because the beds are already taken. Often, women are provided with a variety of resources, case management and direction; but situation remains dire. There are not nearly sufficient resources available to meet the demand.
To break the link between domestic violence and homelessness, we need substantial policy change at the level of city and state government. Options include:
- More emergency and long-term shelter for homeless families escaping domestic violence. That means increased funding from government and private sources.
- Short- and long-term rental assistance. At UMOM’s affordable housing property, 19West, comfortable one and two bedroom apartments rent for well below the median rental rate for the Phoenix area. Families can receive assistance of up to 60% of their rent; the subsidy is reduced over time until the family is independent. Research tells us that families in subsidized housing are much less likely to return to homelessness and, equally importantly, are much less likely to repeat the experience of domestic violence.
- Enact laws that prohibit discrimination against women, domestic partners and children who have experienced domestic violence. Evidence has overwhelmingly shown that when people experiencing homelessness – for any reason – are placed in housing first, it is much more likely they will overcome the issues that led to homelessness in the first place.
UMOM is leading its own governmental advocacy efforts and is proud to be involved with community efforts led by the Arizona Housing Coalition and others. Please return here often for updates on those efforts.
Meantime, if you or someone you know needs help to escape the effects of domestic violence, here are some of the available options:
- A New Leaf’s 24-hour crisis hotline (formerly DV Centralized Screening), 480-890-3039 or 1-844-SAFEDVS (1-844-723-3387)
- 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline, 800-799-7233 or 800-787-3224 (TTD)
- Sexual and Domestic Violence Services Helpline, operated by the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, 800-782-6400.
There are dozens of additional ways to help create profound, positive change in the lives of families experiencing homelessness. If you’d like to donate in support of UMOM’s mission, please click here.