A NOTE: The following blog addresses domestic violence, with discussion of its impact during and after the abuse. Some may find this topic triggering. In this instance of connecting domestic violence and homelessness, we are using the term victim. We recognize the agency someone has over how they identify as a victim/survivor of violence, and this post is written with that in mind.
In recognition of all the people struggling as victims of domestic violence and the increased challenges they are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to take a moment to address the trauma and its relationship to homelessness, as well as some of the tools people can use to recognize and leave situations of domestic violence. To best provide support for people fleeing from trauma we must understand its connection to homelessness as well as the increase in domestic abuse indicators that the pandemic has brought on.
A recent survey by FreeFrom has shown the pandemic has made it more challenging for survivors of abuse to leave their abusers and has identified escalating violence, a lack of resources that would be used to acquire safety, theft of stimulus checks and other relate assistance, and slowed legal proceedings to all be key challenges the pandemic has brought on.
The choice for a person or family experiencing domestic violence is often more trauma, or homelessness—whether an emergency shelter, a hotel, in their car, or anywhere unknown to the person causing harm. A survey of the 58,936 people identified in the 2019 Greater Los Angeles Homeless Count revealed that 20,263 of them had experienced some form of domestic violence, and 2,767 people listed domestic violence as the immediate reason they were experiencing homelessness.
Without a safe and stable home, people are much more vulnerable to trauma and abuse. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence: “Over 90% of homeless women have experienced severe physical or sexual abuse at some point in their lives, and 63% have been victims of intimate partner violence as adults.”
Domestic violence is:
· Physical abuse
· Emotional abuse
· Financial abuse
· Sexual abuse
· Coercive control
· Social isolation
· And many other forms of abuse
There are so many different behaviors that manifest as emotional, psychological, and physical abuse in a relationship, and the person experiencing the abuse may not recognize it. They may internalize feelings of hopelessness, shame, or even culpability that cause them to stay with the abuser.
There is a dangerous misconception that victims of domestic abuse stay with the abuser because they’re okay with it. In reality, many people experiencing abuse don’t want the relationship to end; they just want the violence to stop. Domestic abusers convey the message to their victims that the abuse is their fault and that if they “change” in some way, it will end.
Even when they make the decision to escape, the nature of domestic abuse makes it extremely difficult for victims to successfully leave their abusers. It takes an average of eight attempts for a victim to successfully leave an abusive relationship. Why? Domestic abusers use many tactics to manipulate and control victims: isolating victims from their families and social networks, ensuring that the victim is emotionally and financially dependent on them, threatening to harm or kill the victim or their children if they try to leave, promising to change, and even threatening to self-harm.
Domestic abuse is about power and control—making the victim believe that they have some responsibility for the violence and that they are dependent on the person who is abusing them and therefore unable to leave. Fear, for their children’s safety as well as their own, keeps victims with their abusers even when they desperately want to escape.
When a person experiencing domestic violence is in a position to leave, they may find that they have no resources, no support network, and have no option but to sleep in their car or on the street. These survivors are not choosing homelessness; they are choosing survival.
At our Stories From The Frontline events, we have heard multiple survivors share that leaving an abusive relationship is what brought them to experience homelessness. Jamie Hawks from LA Family Housing shared her experience with us: “After leaving a domestic violence relationship that I had been in for a couple of years, I found myself homeless with my then two-year-old son.”
Often, victims may not know what resources are available to them when they flee domestic violence, and the services they do try to access may be unable to help them. Timing and a shortage of beds make emergency shelters a limited option. Trying to secure safe shelter can be overwhelming when confronted with scarce options and many times requires some “creativity” in where to stay and how to get there.
Collaboration between organizations that provide all types of supportive services can provide holistic care for anyone experiencing domestic violence who needs emergency shelter, supportive housing, trauma-informed counseling, or financial assistance. These resources help survivors provide for the daily needs of their families as they recover from the trauma.
Supportive services make the difference between survivors who permanently escape domestic violence and those who are forced to choose between returning to the abuser and experiencing chronic homelessness, which is itself a form of trauma. “Research indicates that families that receive a housing subsidy after exiting homelessness are far less likely to experience interpersonal violence than those that do not,” according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness. Leaving an abusive relationship safely is one step in a survivor’s healing. As they continue to work on their healing, it will come time for them to start their life in a home that is free from fear and violence.
If you or someone you know has experienced domestic violence, there is support available.
Peace Over Violence (Los Angeles)
National Domestic Violence Hotline