Today’s guest blog post was contributed by Caroline Jones, Executive Director for Doorways for Women and Families.
Many of us know of October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We have become accustomed to seeing pink everywhere and hearing the public services announcements in the Fall. Fewer people are aware that October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I often lament the fact that these two critical women’s issues have to share just one month of the year, as both deserve our full attention 365 days a year.
The extensive reach of domestic violence is shocking. Today, one in four women and girls will experience domestic violence at some point in their life. Yet this epidemic rarely makes the local or national news unless it affects a celebrity or public figure. We hear their voices, but we don’t hear the voices of the millions of women – and men – who suffer daily with sexual, emotional, psychological, financial and physical abuse. What if the only place you had to call home was where someone was causing you and your children harm? Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness among women because victims are often left with a difficult choice: either stay with the abuser or become homeless.
In a perfect world, a survivor of domestic violence would be able to continue living safely in her home and her abuser would be made to leave. Indeed, survivors who file for protective orders can add clauses that allow them to stay at home. Unfortunately, that’s not always a viable option. To remain in their homes, single women and mothers must shoulder the sudden burden of paying the mortgage and household bills on their own, and they sometimes have little work experience or money. Survivors also often need to leave their homes for safety. If an abuser knows where their ex-partner is living, he may re-victimize her with physical abuse, psychological abuse, or stalking.
At Doorways for Women and Families we are keenly aware of this link between domestic violence and homelessness. We see it daily among the women and families we serve. Through our 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline and 11-bed Domestic Violence Safehouse, we address both domestic violence and homelessness because neither issue can be solved without dealing with the other. Beyond immediate shelter, we offer a comprehensive approach that provides supportive housing and life-changing support services, including financial education and empowerment, counseling, and one-on-one children’s mental health services.
For decades, the top priority in national policies and systems that respond to homeless survivors of domestic violence has been the provision of confidential emergency shelter. It has not been until recently that longer-term, safe and independent housing resources have been recognized as best practices.
Now national policies and systems are responding in ways that reach survivors who need targeted housing assistance to prevent the recurrence of violence and end their homelessness. Today we recognize homeless survivors of domestic violence as a priority sub-population of the overall population of people experiencing homelessness, one that is best served with housing assistance and support services. Now, in many communities, such as the one we serve here in Arlington, these policies are shining a light on a link that is so clear in the eyes of the families and survivors we see every day.
Homelessness and domestic violence have been part of our society for centuries. These problems are rooted in complex social issues, with no singular cause. They are driven in part by unfair wages, child abuse, gender inequality, educational gaps, and many other factors. One might look at this list and feel hopeless. But at Doorways, we know what is possible.
Our clients have taught us many times over. Beginning with a safe place to stay and continuing with targeted services to address families’ needs, we can create pathways out of domestic violence and homelessness toward safe and stable lives.