Feb 5, 2020 - Health

Domestic violence pushes many women to homelessness

Illustration of a homeless woman with a bag sitting in the dark, a large mouth is yelling in her direction.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

On any given night, 1 in 4 of the nation's more than 216,000 homeless women are driven to the streets because of domestic violence, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness.

Why it matters: There is a growing national effort to address homelessness, but access to services that deal with both issues is complicated. Domestic violence is often addressed separately, even though the two struggles are frequently intertwined, the NCFH writes.

By the numbers:

  • 38% of domestic violence victims become homeless at some point in their lives, according to the Family and Youth Services Bureau.
  • Between 23% and 30% of women overall experience domestic violence, but more than 60% of homeless women experience domestic violence.
  • 70% of homeless women reported being physically assaulted by a family member or someone they knew, and half had been sexually assaulted, per the Family and Youth Services Bureau.

The big picture: Domestic violence and homelessness are also intertwined with mental health.

  • Homeless mothers suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at three times the rate of other women, the NCFH found.
  • Homeless women are also more likely to become depressed as a result of being homeless, which can lead to substance abuse.

The state of play: Domestic violence is common among all socioeconomic levels, but most prominently affects poor women, per the NCFH.

  • Securing affordable and safe housing is difficult for domestic violence victims, because of their "urgent circumstances, poor credit, rental and employment histories, and limited income," the NCFH writes. The inability to collect and/or enforce child support and alimony payments is key to their income.
“The average homeless person is dealing with multiple issues — mental health issues compounded by chronic conditions and diseases. And it’s often impossible to get into housing when you have such chronic issues.”
— D. Michael Durham, technical assistant manager for the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, told the University of Southern California's nursing department

If you or someone you know may be struggling with domestic violence, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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