Domestic violence often causes homelessness, pushing victims into a situation that can allow even more victimization.
By Andrew Fraieli
Domestic violence can be a cause, and a result, of homelessness. Some people find themselves unable to leave an abusive relationship because of fear of having nowhere else to go, and some stay because they see the abuser as the only safe haven from the world when they’re already on the street.
Mary Stewart is both those people.
“It’s not safe to live on the streets alone — especially if you’re a woman. I feel safer in an abusive relationship than I do living on the streets alone despite my strong survival instincts,” Stewart, who’s most recent episode of homelessness was due to leaving an abusive relationship, wrote in a recent article for the Homeless Voice. “At least I know what to expect from my abusers and how to avoid the occasional rages.”
According to the CDC’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010-2012 state report, the latest national report on domestic violence broken down by state, nearly 40% of women in Florida experienced sexual violence, physical violence, and/or stalking victimization by an intimate partner. About 30% of men in Florida experienced this as well.
In 2018, 28% of adults in families with children experiencing sheltered homelessness were survivors of domestic violence, with 10% fleeing their abusers at the time. This is according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2018 Annual Homeless Assessment Report.
It continues that, since the count doesn’t include shelters considered domestic violence shelters — it’s illegal for those shelters to report homelessness numbers to HUD — “the percentage of all sheltered homeless families that were fleeing domestic violence in 2018 was likely much higher.”
Even more, this does not include those who are experiencing unsheltered homelessness because of domestic violence, like Stewart.
Many domestic violence centers have available beds for short-term sheltering — like Women In Distress of Broward County, and AVDA in Palm Beach County — but according to Stewart, who’s experiences of homelessness have mainly been in Palm Beach County, most places have a limit of six weeks on stays.
“In 2018, 28% of adults in families with children experiencing sheltered homelessness were survivors of domestic violence”
“I always made up an address whenever I went to a domestic violence shelter because the advocates tried to refer me to the Lewis Center when I honestly told them that I was a homeless abuse victim,” Stewart continued. The Lewis Center is a homeless resource center in Palm Beach, but has further requirements for help compared to domestic abuse shelters.
The purpose of these short-term shelters is “helping participants to rebuild and sustain independence and a violence-free future,” says Women in Distress, with AVDA similarly saying they give a safe place for people to take “steps toward attaining self-sufficiency.”
According to Stewart, those who are experiencing homelessness already have many barriers to self-sufficiency, with domestic violence making it even more difficult. These domestic violence shelters were never able to find a place for her after those six weeks, she said, forcing her to go back to her abuser because she found the streets alone to be even more dangerous.
Many choose the more, to Stewart, judged route of becoming homeless rather than be in an abusive relationship.
The Hunger and Homelessness Survey of 2005 by the United States Conference of Mayors, one of the most recent broad surveys on homelessness and domestic violence, found that “50 percent of U.S. cities surveyed reported that domestic violence is a primary cause of homelessness.” Some of these cities were Burlington, Cedar Rapids, Charleston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Nashville, Philadelphia, St. Paul, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, Seattle, and Trenton.
A 2003 Florida survey, When There’s Nowhere to Go: Domestic Violence and the Need for Better Housing Options for Survivors and Their Children by Marilyn K. Kershner, found that 46 percent of survivors had experienced homelessness, and 83 percent of them “had difficulty finding suitable and affordable housing.”
One friend of Stewart’s became homeless running from domestic violence, and he still refuses to go back to retrieve any belongings.
Whether domestic violence caused homelessness for someone, or homelessness has continued one, “Victims of domestic violence shouldn’t need to suffer in silence,” as Stewart puts it. “And they certainly shouldn’t need to choose between being abused or sleeping in a tent alone.”