Domestic violence leading cause of female homelessness


Yesterday, President Obama signed the re-authorized Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) into law, a big gain that will help protect domestic violence victims from the plight of homelessness. Reauthorization and expansion of VAWA comes after three years of advocacy on the part of the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty (NLCHP) and its partners, according to an article published yesterday by the NLCHP.

According to the NLCHP, not only does VAWA acknowledge sexual assault survivors as a protected class, it also extends housing protections beyond public housing. These protections include all of the housing programs managed through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program.

The NLCHP stated that in order to help prevent the homelessness of domestic violence victims, over 3 million housing units will be covered under VAWA. VAWA also requires housing providers to implement policies for emergency transfers. Another requirement is that housing providers give domestic violence and sexual assault survivors notice of their rights under VAWA during any eviction process, according to the NLCHP.

Domestic violence is considered to be one of the leading causes of homelessness among women and their families. At the regional level, domestic violence was a primary cause of homelessness among 8.2 percent of 281 surveyed homeless individuals in the Harrisburg and Dauphin County area last year, according to CACH’s 2012 Point In Time survey.

At the national level, the numbers are much greater. For 22 to 57 percent of homeless women, depending upon region and study, domestic violence is the immediate cause of their homelessness, according to a NLCHP fact sheet. A 2003 study conducted in 10 locations in the United States found that almost all of the 100 participating homeless mothers had either experienced or witnessed domestic violence in their lifetimes.

According to the NLCHP, there is a significant correlation between domestic violence and homelessness. Ninety-two percent of homeless women surveyed had experienced severe physical or sexual assault at one point in their lives. Sixty-three percent of these women had been victims of violence by a partner, according to the NLCHP. Thirty-two percent of the surveyed women had been assaulted by their current or recent partner.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness (NAEH), domestic violence survivors often find themselves isolated by their abusers from support networks and financial resources. As a result, these survivors may not have a steady income, a good employment history, a good credit history, and/or landlord references. They also tend to suffer from panic disorder, anxiety, major depression, and substance abuse, according to the NAEH.

Fulfilling the needs of these homeless domestic violence survivors is key to helping them live better lives. According to the NAEH, these survivors have both short- and long- term needs when it comes to housing. One short-term need is for them to have safe housing away from their abuser.  A long-term need is for them to have access to safe, stable, and affordable housing away from their abuser once they get back on their feet, according to the NAEH.