In our fall newsletter, we shared the personal story of Jessica Rose, a survivor of domestic violence trying to find housing for her family after leaving her abuser. Click here to read part 1 and continue reading about her experience in part 2 below.
After fleeing domestic violence with my children in 2019 and facing 3 months of homelessness, I managed to secure housing in a Low-Income Housing Tax Credit Property unit that was set aside for survivors in my situation. Two years later, however, my abusive ex discovered where we were living and paid a handful of uninvited visits. We were no longer safe there and needed to move. When I went to the property management for help, I was handed a lease violation, denied an emergency transfer, and threatened with eviction for having an “unauthorized occupant.” Despite having looked for housing right away, my children and I found ourselves homeless again, this time for 8 months. I couldn’t understand why none of the housing programs or providers were getting back to me. Then one day I received a rejection letter from an HRA that had previously approved me for housing. The letter told me why they were not going to be offering me that housing after all. When potential housing opportunities were calling my former property manager as a reference, he was telling them I was a bad tenant who had tried to hide an unauthorized occupant.
None of it was true. I was a good tenant who was quiet and who’s rent was always on time. My abuser paying some unwanted visits and sabotaging my housing was in and of itself an act of domestic violence. And now I had just learned that my former landlord was using this against me to further sabotage my housing, keeping my children and I homeless. That broke me. I could not fathom that anybody for any reason would actively operate to ensure that children remain homeless.
Every minute of homelessness is a minute of harm. Someone who is homeless has lost so much more than just their housing. And when somebody, especially a child, who has done nothing wrong and through no fault of their own, has everything taken away from them, it is an injustice.
The first time my children and I fled was in 2019. We had to leave our home of 12 years to escape the escalating violence. But before we were able to get back into the home to get our belongings, everything the children owned was thrown away by the owner/landlord. I had been unable to safely get our belongings from the house because my ex refused to leave it. When he was finally made to leave by the sheriff, I returned to find that the owner/landlord had emptied out the children’s room and their entire play area downstairs. Everything they owned was gone. It was devastating. Not only had my children lost the only home they’d ever known, but they also lost all of their toys, their beds, their clothes, birthday presents still in the bag from my son’s party, thousands of dollars’ worth of Star Wars Legos, so many Thomas the Tank Engine tracks and trains, their baby books and memory boxes… All of it gone. Even the family dog passed away during this time. We were all left heart broken and traumatized.
In November of 2021 when we had to flee our home yet again to escape domestic violence, I decided to hire movers and rent a storage unit so our belongings would be safe until we found a home. But the movers didn’t move our things carefully, nothing was wrapped up or packed well, and they had crammed it all in a storage unit (including the items designated for the junk removal I paid for), stacked so precariously that it was dangerous and nearly impossible to access anything.
Not only that, but the back door of the storage garage had been jammed open about a third of the way and left like that. Things near the door had been exposed to the elements and water damaged. The totes near the open door were missing items. Rodents had gotten in, damaging or destroying our furniture and new mattresses, our bedding, the children’s stuffed toys, our books, electronics, etc. It was retraumatizing to once again have to leave a home because it was no longer safe and then lose our newly replaced belongings as well. It is something we are still struggling to figure out how to handle.
The injustices my children have suffered weigh heavy on my mind and heart. And that these same types of injustices impact so many homeless children should weigh heavy on us all. Children who face homelessness not only have lost their homes, but they also have been separated from most of their belongings and the things that brought them comfort, their pets, their friends, even the family unit itself is at risk for being separated from each other. It is very sad. And it is important that people know not just that it is sad, but also understand why it is so sad.
Most families experiencing homelessness are single mothers and their children; these women experience a high rate of PTSD. The events that lead to homelessness are almost assuredly traumatic events. The SHIFT Study found that 93% of mothers experiencing homelessness have a history of trauma. Two-thirds of homeless mothers have a history of domestic violence and one-third are actively fleeing domestic violence when they become homeless. The Justice Department states that most domestic assaults reported to law enforcement take place after the couple separates. These women are about 500 times more at risk when they leave and there is a 75% increase in violence for 2 years after separating. So much hinges on this delicate point in time. The survivor’s family is already at risk of harm, and facing homelessness only exacerbates it.
It is unrealistic to expect stressed-out families to navigate the Human Services and the Health Care Systems to try to get help for themselves and their traumatized children while they are trying to find housing and hide from their abuser. More than 50% of requests for services made by survivors in the US that cannot be met are for housing and safe shelter. Many victims do not leave because they have nowhere to go. If victims of domestic violence were able to secure safe housing before they fled their abusers, it would not only prevent homelessness but also save lives.
Those fleeing domestic violence are more likely to become homeless or have a problem finding housing because of their unique, and often urgent, circumstances. For them, the experience of becoming homeless is a major stressor amidst an already complicated, traumatic experience. It adds another element to the fear they already have for the safety of their children, themselves, and their family. In addition to the trauma of homelessness, many families become separated from each other during this time.
Shelters, when available, offer only a temporary solution. The time and energy a parent must dedicate to seeking and obtaining housing takes away from parenting and the maintenance of family routines. Even after a family finds housing it can take time before normalcy is achieved and the after-effects of homelessness can have negative repercussions that last a lifetime.
Homelessness, as well as the experiences leading up to homelessness, have a lasting impact on children. It is important to recognize that when young children experience trauma, there is a relatively short window in their developmental process to address the trauma before it becomes a serious problem that aﬀects them as adults. These children face insurmountable obstacles as they grow into adults and are often trapped in the cycle of poverty, ill health, and signiﬁcant social disadvantages.
There is hope, however. Children with a “safe base” and the support of a consistent loving adult, can be incredibly resilient. Today my children are doing much better emotionally and mentally than they have in years. We were able to secure housing with the help of a local organization which took the time to understand our situation and provided the assistance needed to secure an apartment. You will not ﬁnd a more grateful and happy child than one who has lost everything and then is given a safe place to call “home,” complete with things that are often taken for granted like the comfort of being surrounded by family, having free access to a kitchen, sleeping in a real bed in an actual bedroom, and the security that comes from knowing that one’s mother is safe and sleeping just down the hall.