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Abuse or Homelessness: A Horrifying Decision for Many Victims of Domestic Violence

There came a point where the abuse was getting more and more dangerous. One night, in particular, I escaped and drove to a parking lot up the road. A few of my friends had encouraged me to call a domestic violence shelter. I was very hesitant because I didn’t want my kids to have to experience that if I can be honest, but it came to a point where they experiencing my abuse was far more damaging in my eyes. I took a deep breath and called. To my absolute shock and dismay, they told me that they were full and couldn’t take us.

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Countless women living in a domestic violence situation often face a gut-wrenching decision:

Stay in the abuse or become homeless.

It’s a horrific reality for many survivors. Statistically, 38 percent will face homelessness in their lifetimes. One study revealed that more than 80 percent of mothers and children who were in the situation had been victims of domestic violence in the past. Another study showed that 22 to 57 percent of homeless women stated that the direct reason for their lack of housing was due to domestic violence. Financial abuse in the relationship often leaves survivors with little-to-no resources, and housing is no different. (Family and Youth Services Bureau, 2016)

I dealt with it myself. I desperately wanted to leave my situation, but I had nothing. Just like research has shown that 53 percent of women stayed in their abuse due to a lack of housing, I was no exception (Violence Free Minnesota, 2018). We had three young children together, and he had all control of the finances as I was a stay-at-home-mom.

There came a point where the abuse was getting more and more dangerous. One night, in particular, I escaped and drove to a parking lot up the road. A few of my friends had encouraged me to call a domestic violence shelter. I was very hesitant because I didn’t want my kids to have to experience that if I can be honest, but it came to a point where they experiencing my abuse was far more damaging in my eyes. I took a deep breath and called. To my absolute shock and dismay, they told me that they were full and couldn’t take us. I called three more places in the area, and all gave me the same answer. I was in complete disbelief as I returned to the abuse. It was the first time I truly believed I would be stuck forever.

Sadly, many shelters and domestic violence organizations across the world are lacking funds and resources to help victims in the growing demand for housing. A 24-hour census in 2015 tracked over 31,500 adults and children who utilized emergency shelters for domestic violence or transitional housing. In that same 24 hours, over 12,197 requests were not able to be met due to unavailable funds and staff, and of those, 63 percent of the requests for resources were for housing. Just like me, many victims can’t even utilize what is considered to be their last resort, so they must resort to other options or stay in the abuse. (Family and Youth Services Bureau, 2016)

Another scary reality for those who are homeless is the violence that can occur while they are in such living conditions. One survey showed that 31 percent of homeless women over the age of 18 and 28 percent that were 24 years or younger reported at least 1 sexual or physical attack while they were homeless. This is after leaving their abuser and the toxic chaos that came with the relationship. Around 23 percent of teenage and adult homeless women also reported that they had to perform sexual acts in exchange for food, clothing, or shelter. (Violence Free Minnesota, 2018)
Using sex to make money is somewhat common with many homeless survivors of domestic and sexual violence. They turn to work in the sex industry, ranging from prostitution, pornography, stripping, etc., to retain shelter, income, and other necessities. It is a term referred to as “survival sex.” Doing this type of work can be dangerous as well, and many in the sex industry report violence against them such as rape, physical assault, harassment, theft, and the threat of kidnapping and/or human trafficking. In essence, these victims are revictimized through more acts of violence even after leaving the relationship. (Homeless Hub, 2021)

In my story, my children and I were homeless for 114 days before finally coming up with the means to move to a very small trailer that we called home. In that time, we bounced from friends’ houses to hotels. I was able to get a job substitute teaching at my children’s school during the process. Many days I wiped my tears before walking into work. Exhausted, overwhelmed, and never knowing how we would make it every few days, it was the hardest thing I ever went through, but we persevered. My boys never missed a day of school, had lunches packed, hair fixed, and never skipped a beat. They also enjoyed the hotel’s free daily breakfast, so I suppose memories were made in those challenging times.

As scary as homelessness is for many survivors of domestic violence, staying in abuse is never the answer. Material objects can be replaced, but lives cannot. If you are facing homelessness, reach out to family, friends, churches, and domestic violence organizations, including us at Break the Silence Against Domestic Violence. If you are blessed enough to not be in these shoes, consider donating to organizations that assist these victims so fewer are told they can’t be helped. You may save a life with your donation when housing and resources are not an obstacle for a person to leave abuse.

In my situation, homelessness was a temporary pain that led to permanent joy and freedom. It was by far the ideal situation, but it wasn’t my ending, and neither was abuse. He may have financially held me down for a little while, but I overcame that. My future is bright, and the possibilities are endless. Yours can be, too.

References

Family and Youth Services Bureau. (2016). Domestic violence and homelessness: Statistics. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/fysb/fact-sheet/domestic-violence-and-homelessness-statistics-2016

Homeless hub. (2021). Sex workers. Homeless Hub. https://www.homelesshub.ca/about-homelessness/population-specific/sex-workers

Violence Free Minnesota. (2018). Aiding in domestic violence: Wilder study 2018, supplemental PIT count. Violence Free Minnesota.

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