Emergency Exit
March 14, 2020

Homelessness vs. Domestic Violence, Are They Really Separate Problems?

Different members from Women’s Advocates’ Staff periodically write posts on topics that are relevant to the work we do as an organization.  While Women’s Advocates is supported by Grant No. A-CVS-2018-WOMADV-00013, awarded by the Office on Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs – the opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Justice.  

The Viewpoint of A Domestic Violence Advocate

Since the early 1990’s when I started working in domestic violence shelters and started screening callers who were seeking shelter, my training and what my supervisors told me was to make sure before accepting anyone was that they were truly seeking shelter because they were fleeing domestic violence not because they needed a place to stay because of homelessness. I believe that at that time homelessness was perceived to be a totally separate issue from domestic violence, that there were a lot of homeless individuals, and that homeless women would lie to get into a battered women’s shelter because their stay would be free of charge whereas many homeless shelters charge something to those who stay there.

Part of my thoughts at the beginning, that was of course never verbalized, was that the caller stating that they needed shelter to be safe because violence, was indeed the worthy victim, who through no fault of her own needed our help and protection as opposed to a homeless individual who was at least in part responsible for their situation. Today, I believe domestic violence and homelessness are closely connected and that either can cause the other.

I don’t remember a lot about the calls I took in the beginning, except that little if any documentation was kept. I have however noticed in recent years that over half of the callers who are seeking shelter because of violence have been staying with someone (a child’s father or a family member, or friend.) Some others have recently left shelter or admit that they are currently homeless. There really is no way of verifying the truth of what a caller is telling you, but I don’t think that the majority of these women are simply homeless and are lying to get into a domestic violence shelter.

Research on Homelessness in Recent Years

A report by The National Alliance to End Homelessness found that 12% of the 70,000 people who were homeless on a single night in January 2016 reported experiencing domestic violence at some point. Further, another study conducted in New York City discovered that one in five families experienced domestic violence within five years prior to entering shelter and of those, 88% reported that the violence significantly contributed to their homelessness. More recently and specific to Minnesota is the Wilder Foundation’s Homelessness in Minnesota 2018 Study. This statewide study is conducted every three years. The 2018 study revealed that homelessness in Minnesota has increased by 10% since 2015 with a 9% increase specifically in the 7-county Twin City metro area and a 13% increase in greater Minnesota. The Wilder Foundation also recognizes the interconnectedness of homelessness and domestic violence and collected specific data to learn more about that interconnection in Minnesota. Here are some findings from their 2018 report:

  • 53% of women and 40% of men reported that they stayed in an abusive situation due to having no other housing
  • 33% of women and 12% of men left their last housing because of abuse by someone they lived with
  • 31% of women and 18% of the men reported being physically or sexually attacked while being homeless
  • 23% of women and 12% of men responded that they were sexual with someone to obtain shelter, clothing or food.
  • In 2009, 29% of homeless women were also fleeing domestic violence and that percentage has continued to increase over the years:
    • 30% in 2012
    • 35% in 2015
    • 37% in 2018

Programs exist to help people who are homeless and fleeing domestic violence

I fully understand the appropriateness of screening callers for shelter and I am not suggesting accepting families that are solely homeless. I do feel that many of our callers have both issues going on [domestic violence and homelessness/housing instability]. Many of the programs that work with our domestic violence victim-survivors also work with homeless families. Those programs include Coordinated Access to Housing, the Jeremiah Program and the YWCA Rapid Rehousing Program.

The reason why a woman is seeking safe, affordable housing doesn’t really matter because the problems are the same including poor credit and ruined rental histories, lack of steady employment, housing discrimination and loss of subsidized or other affordable housing.

Changing how we address homelessness

One possible area for change has to do with funding to combat homelessness. Much of our local, state and federal funding and efforts are focused on the chronically homeless, those who spend a great deal of their lives on the street because of issues such as severe mental illness and untreated substance abuse. According to recent data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) only 14% of the homeless population in 2016 could be classified as chronically homeless.

The largest population of homeless individuals are those who are situationally homeless. Situationally homeless refers to those who are experiencing homelessness because of a recent family crisis such as a job loss, medical or health emergency, divorce, the loss of an income earner or domestic abuse. The majority of domestic violence victim-survivors fall into this category. Up to now, government funding seems to want to address the issue of chronic homelessness first. Then when that improves, attention can be turned to situational homelessness. It would seem better to provide funding for reducing those who are situationally homeless, before larger numbers become chronically homeless.

Resources are available for continued education!

  • Learn more about the interconnection of domestic violence and homelessness here.
  • View our housing resource page here.
  • Sign up for a homelessness/domestic violence presentation here.
Written by Jill Mantor (jmantor@wadvocates.org), Crisis Resource Advocate at Women’s Advocates 
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