As the days grow colder and the holidays approach, we are often called on to come to the aid of millions of Americans who don’t have a safe, reliable place of their own to call home.
Today we would like to call attention the truly hidden faces of homelessness: the estimated 1.3 million American women who are homeless because they are victims of domestic violence. These women, their children and a growing number of men represent what the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has identified as the third leading cause of homelessness in America.
Research shows that as many as 50% of all homeless women identify domestic violence as the direct cause of their homelessness. Since one in four women are victims of domestic violence at some point in their lives, that figure is actually not so shocking.
Still, we find it disconcerting that the connection between homelessness and domestic violence is rarely discussed.
So often, we hear people say of victims of intimate partner violence, “Why don’t they just leave?” as if fleeing their homes was the snap-of-the-fingers solution to ending their abuse and moving on with their lives.
Yet we know how complicated it can be to “just leave,” even when the safety and security of a victim and his or her children depends on it. That’s because the next question many victims confront after leaving an abusive partner is, “And now, where do I go?”
For most of the last year, our 15-bed safe house, Kathie’s Place, was filled beyond capacity with survivors of intimate partner violence who came to us seeking emergency shelter. This is a trend mirrored at safe houses throughout our state, which were at 122% of capacity for the entire year, according to the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
To get out of their homes — and away from their abusers — our clients often leave with just the clothes on their backs and, if they are lucky, a few basics for themselves and their children.
And while statistics and research often analyze the intersect between domestic violence and women, it’s important to know we see these same challenges facing the growing number of men, gay and straight, who come to us seeking safety from their abusers, too. Although the majority of victims are women, this is not just a women’s issue.
We find that domestic violence victims of every gender and socio-economic background have also often experienced the financial abuse of their partner. So even if the family has assets “on paper,” access to those funds for rent and day-to-day living expenses can be challenging, especially if a victim is trying to end a marriage and seek custodial support or alimony.
This kind of upheaval and uncertainty inevitably presents an additional trauma for any individual or family that has already endured too much. It’s also why too many victims return to their abusers, overwhelmed by the challenges of trying to make it on their own without resources.
We are grateful that in the six Fairfield County communities we serve we are able to provide victims with a temporary respite from their abuse and a pathway to begin healing. Clients can stay with us in a safe, supportive place for up to 60 days, sometimes longer. We are also fortunate to be able to provide apartments to a few families living in our safe house at Paul’s Place, three apartments dedicated to clients working toward greater self-sufficiency and financial independence.
We are also committed to helping childhood victims of domestic violence and its residual aftermath. Last year, we launched Camp HOPE Connecticut, the first trauma-informed camp and mentoring for impacted children. The goal of this camp is to show children there is a pathway to hope, resiliency and a future without violence.
Yet while this is an important start, there is a need for so much more.
We find that even some well-intentioned programs directed at eradicating homelessness don’t take into account the unique needs and trauma of domestic violence victims. There is a real unmet need for financial assistance for victims in need of relocation, rent, security deposits, and the basic necessities of independent living.
We need more transitional housing, more support for victims working toward self-sufficiency, and more resources that lead victims toward freedom and independence.
During this holiday season our wish is that victims who leave their abusers can safely do so knowing there is a true and permanent pathway to hope.