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Navigating the Thin Line Between Domestic Violence and Homelessness

-Editorial

Domestic violence – also known as Intimate Partner Violence – is one of the leading causes of homelessness, particularly for victims with limited financial resources. 

A new study released last month by the University of California San Francisco Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative finds that at least 17% of homeless people fled their homes because of partner violence. Victims face many barriers to becoming housed again, including lack of financial resources, possible evictions as a result of police appearing at their homes too often, and poor credit scores because of partners fraudulently using their credit.

Speakers at a recent Ethnic Media Service briefing showed how domestic violence often leads to homelessness, the findings of the UCSF study, and the increase in domestic violence over the past two years in New York and its boroughs. 

Dr. Anita Hargrave, Assistant Professor, UCSF and lead BHHI researcher of the report “Toward Safety: Understanding Intimate Partner Violence and Homelessness gave a presentation. 

She said that according to a California Statewide Study of People Experiencing Homelessness represents the largest U.S. study in 30 years, involving adults aged 18 and above. 

With 3,200 questionnaires and 365 paired in-depth interviews, including 50 focusing on Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and 104 discussing IPV, the study sheds light on crucial aspects. Notably, 40% of participants cited IPV as a reason for leaving their last housing, while almost all expressed that modest financial support could have prevented their homelessness. 

Additionally, a significant number faced IPV during homelessness, with 95% highlighting the high cost of housing as a barrier to exiting homelessness. This comprehensive study provides valuable insights into the complex interplay of intimate partner violence, financial challenges, and housing issues among the homeless population.

“Despite these challenges, survivors impacted by intimate partner violence described pathways forward to housing stability and healing. However, they reported that obtaining that stability and recovery would require increased access to non-congregate, trauma-informed domestic violence shelters, flexible financial support, specialized services for intimate partner violence, and support for finding permanent housing,” Hargrave said. “Based on the report findings, BHHI endorses policy recommendations in four key areas. The first is that there’s a critical need to increase access to affordable permanent housing for survivors of intimate partner violence. To allow for swift exits from abusive situations, providing safety and security needed to thrive and heal after experiencing violence.”

The majority of survivors revealed that they spent most nights unsheltered, highlighting a pressing need for the expansion of Domestic Violence (DV) shelter services during moments of crisis. These shelters play a crucial role in providing essential services, including access to housing and mental health support. However, they face challenges related to resource constraints within their facilities and funding limitations. The question arises about whether DV shelters and programs are part of the solution, and the answer is affirmative. Despite being integral, they grapple with the enormity of the issue. Advocacy for these shelters is essential to secure additional resources, increased funding, and enhanced training in trauma-informed approaches. Addressing these aspects is crucial for effectively supporting individuals who have endured violence and trauma.

Desiree (Dez) Martinez, Executive Director of We Are NOT Invisible. Martinez experienced homelessness due to IPV.

“I became homeless due to interpersonal violence, enduring mental and emotional abuse that resulted in a breakdown. Lacking insurance, and seeking help led to confinement. Desperate for a haven, no assistance came. Mental facility treatment needs scrutiny, leaving me unwilling to endure relentless suffering. Despite reaching out to national hotlines and local resources, limited support in my county left me pleading. Unqualified for a homeless bed, I ended up at a local shelter, exposed to the streets again. Gender restrictions and financial constraints hindered relocation, choosing homelessness over returning to abuse. Documenting realities, I utilized my photography skills,” Martinez said.

Amidst the challenges faced by the unhoused, there’s a glimmer of hope as individuals like Martinez tirelessly advocate for universal housing and civil rights. Martinez’s role as a national advocate, outreach worker, and creator of a homeless union reflects a commitment to change. The establishment of a nonprofit and a social media platform amplifies the voices often unheard. She calls for media to play a pivotal role in shaping perceptions and raising awareness is a crucial step toward fostering understanding and empathy for the homeless community.

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