Jan 22, 2024 - News

Study: Facing domestic violence increases risk of homelessness

Photo of a homeless person sitting next to a mural of the Golden Gate Bridge

A homeless person lies against a mural of the Golden Gate Bridge on Nov. 11 in downtown San Francisco. Photo: Loren Elliott/AFP via Getty Images

Public policy experts have long noted the role of domestic and sexual violence as a leading cause of homelessness for women. Now, a new study highlights the increased risk of homelessness for victims.

Driving the news: The study, spearheaded by the UCSF Benioff Homelessness and Housing Initiative, shows that people who flee domestic violence spend most of their time during homelessness unsheltered, which increases their vulnerability to future violence.

  • "In a high-cost state like California, extremely low-income survivors have few resources to actually escape violence and find alternate housing," Tiana Moore, the initiative's policy director, told the San Francisco Chronicle.

Details: Among survivors who experienced intimate partner violence in the six months prior to homelessness, 40% indicated violence was a reason for leaving their last housing, while 20% noted it was their primary reason for leaving, according to the findings, which analyzed data from the California Statewide Study of People Experiencing Homelessness.

  • Within that same pool of participants, 42% reported that they continued to experience domestic violence while homeless.
  • Survivors often had to change locations frequently and be vigilant of their surroundings to protect themselves.
  • Participants impacted by domestic violence were "extremely low income," with a median monthly household income of $1,000 prior to homelessness, per the study.
  • Most survivors agreed that modest financial support — such as a shallow monthly subsidy, lump-sum payment or housing voucher — could've helped stave off homelessness.

Of note: Few accessed domestic violence shelters during homelessness. Those who did stay in shelters tended to use the broader homeless shelter system more often.

  • In San Francisco, less than 5% of shelter and supportive housing sites are women-only, community advocates have said.

What they're saying: "Domestic violence contributes to homelessness and can continue or worsen when someone is unhoused," Debbie I. Chang, president and CEO of CASPEH funder Blue Shield of California Foundation, said in a press release. "We can't solve one without addressing the other."

  • Chang also noted that both domestic violence and homelessness affect people of color with low incomes disproportionately.

Yes, but: Domestic violence shelters are likely to face federal funding cuts this year.

What to watch: San Franciscans will be asked to vote on a $300 million housing bond measure on the March ballot — it would allocate $30 million toward adding 120 new shelter beds for domestic violence survivors.

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