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Do you consider domestic violence a cause to homelessness in the United States? You may be surprised to learn that domestic violence is a common factor in homelessness for single adults and families. It decreases job stability, threatens financial stability, and interferes with the victim’s abilities to form supportive relationships to escape the abuse. In many cases, domestic violence is the immediate
cause of their homelessness, and the two are tightly interwoven.
In Los Angeles, domestic violence (DV) and homelessness are strongly correlated as
evidenced by the 2019 Homeless Count report published by Los Angeles Homeless
Services Agency (LAHSA). In Los Angeles County, there was a 28% increase among
individuals/families who were homeless due to fleeing a domestic violence situation.
The City of Los Angeles reported a 42% increase among homeless individuals/families reporting either current incidences or experience of DV. According to the National LowIncome Housing Coalition, the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in LA is $1,670; requiring an annual income of $66,520 or $31.98 per hour; a household would need three minimum wage job earners to afford such rent. These staggering figures make it extremely difficult for low-income individuals and families to secure and maintain affordable housing, especially for DV survivors during COVID-19. Domestic Violence survivors face unique barriers regarding safety, confidentiality, and dealing with trauma.
When victims do flee, many times from a lethal incident, they flee to domestic violence
Emergency Shelters or fall into homelessness when these resources are not available.
It comes down to this – when victims make the hard decision to leave and reach out for
help, they must be able to find safety and support if they are to escape domestic
Serving domestic violence survivors begins with availability and access to safe, physical
spaces to support survivors and their children. In fact, the immediate need of a survivor
fleeing domestic violence is safety. Some survivors may be able to safely stay in their
own home with some additional financial support through rental assistance while others
may require a stay in an emergency shelter or transitional housing program before reentering their own independent housing.
To help our clients find safe housing, Haven Hills has Housing Navigators. Our Housing
Navigators are case managers that assesses, coordinate and monitor housing plans for
clients in all three of our programs. Their job is to advocate with landlords, homeless
service providers and housing partners to find clients permanent and stable housing
once they leave our facilities.
Our housing efforts include our two shelter programs (Crisis and Transitional Housing) and our Housing First program which assist clients in securing safe, permanent, and affordable housing upon exit from our shelters and individuals and families in the community. Since 2019, we have provided over $1million dollars ($1,026,645) to 243 households, including 125 families and 118 single individuals (243 adults / 170 children). In addition, 42 clients received financial support for education, materials,
household utilities and other flexible funding to support their housing efforts. Clients
report the support has changed their lives and helped them feel more confident when
transitioning out of our shelters, allowing them to focus on employment or educational
aspirations to maintain their housing upon exit. The greatest benefit is the flexible,
financial assistance to help with deposits, utilities, and dealing with emergency costs.
Short-term financial assistance to secure and maintain housing can change the
trajectory of a family in so many ways – leading them to live safe, healthy, and happy
lives; and most importantly ending the cycle of violence. Effectiveness at Haven Hills
has been demonstrated mainly by placement of survivors in safe, permanent housing
without the abuser; there has been a notable increase with the implementation of this
program since 2018.
Much like healing trauma and abuse, finding affordable, safe housing is crucial to
helping survivors reduce the possibility of future violence. Research indicates that
families that receive a housing subsidy after exiting homelessness are far less likely to
experience interpersonal violence than those that do not. Having an affordable place to
call home is crucial for this population, to both reduce their risk of homelessness as well
as the possibility of future violence.
We urge victims to leave their abusers, we even go so far as to tell them they must
leave, yet where should they go? Survivors are entitled to a clear pathway to housing
that will help them get back on the road to self-sufficiency.
Usually, when you experience any form of abuse from a partner — whether that be physical, psychological, financial, or sexual abuse, people will encourage you to disconnect from your abuser. This can include stopping all communication, and seeking police support if appropriate.
However, with children, the process of separation is more complex and often means you need to remain in contact with the other party, despite harm that happened within the relationship. Having a child with an abuser is an unbreakable bond that you will share for the rest of your life.
It can be hard to have your own identity when you are struggling and trying to provide a safe place for yourself and your children. Like our survivor Megan who shared her struggle:
I take deep breaths. I have felt suffocated for years. Tried to catch my breath by leaving “him”. But I couldn’t breathe as they put the handcuffs on me for “abusing him” when I had been the one abused. I couldn’t breathe when they handed me the restraining order to not come within 100 yards of my kids because I was a “danger” to them. I couldn’t breathe in every court hearing being told I was a bad parent. I couldn’t breathe as I slept in the truck. I was able to take small breaths when I was able to fight the negatives and get them back. I could take deep breaths as I finally had them in my arms after two months of nothing. My breath was taken again when they pulled my three month old from my arms because of both of “them”. I couldn’t breathe when I sat in that room for 1 hour as not one but TWO social workers watched my every move as I “visited” my kids. I couldn’t breathe when the ER doctor told me I was pregnant. Short breaths and reflect and the choices I am making. Deep breaths as I secured my income and escaped the abuse, finding us a safe home. Full breaths when I was finally told I could have my kids back after a year and a half. Slow breathing as “he” disappeared for months leaving me to do it all, feeding them, loving them through their own pains and confusion. And again, small breathes as he returns and threatens to take them again because I decided to fight for “him” to pitch in for their survival. Preparing myself to deal with the ups and downs of co-parenting with an abuser. Life can be breathtaking in both ways. But the point is to Keep Breathing. I will continue to have my kids be my oxygen.♥
Client’s name withheld
Don’t forget to nurture your own identity and life. It may be difficult, it is important to build a broader identity outside parenthood and your relationship, to ensure you have a range of identities to draw solace from.
Work, friendships, hobbies, and other relationships can be sources of support and meaning and give you something to feel positive about at times when the co-parenting relationship feels particularly fraught.
For information on how to deal with the effects of trauma or to get help, please visit our website at havenhills.org.
One of the many barriers that survivors face when trying to leave an abusive relationship is a lack of education or job readiness. Often, this inability to support themselves keeps survivors in abusive relationships.
Knowing this, in 2020 Haven Hills partnered with the American Aerospace Technical Academy to create a multi-sector blueprint to highlight meaningful workforce pathways combined with trauma-informed practices for survivors of domestic violence. We focused on a multi-sector approach to create pathways out of poverty, dependence, and violence through training in non-destructive testing, GED attainment, job placement, and wrap-around support services such as case management, life skills, and support groups to help manage work stress for survivors. Our hope was to help participants build stability through increased workforce readiness, skill acquisition and confidence building.
It is never easy to take on a new career or to consider a new career at any age and it was especially important that we prepare participants for the added workload and scheduling management required to accommodate virtual classes from 5pm to 10pm, Monday through Friday during the 16-week program.
We are honored to report that six survivors successfully completed the first Workforce Development Program class! We are challenged to find the perfect word that encompasses the six graduates and their sheer determination to complete this program. The only word that comes to mind is “Grit”. This word is defined by the perseverance, resiliency, and the hard work to reach a goal over a long period of time and each of these survivors have all truly encompassed what it means to be “gritty”.
The challenges these survivors had were many, and they met them with determination and the hope of building a better life for themselves and their children. They had to learn new material virtually through a pandemic, which certainly had its own set of challenges. They had to re-learn how to be in school. They balanced being a single mother, working to provide for their family, while healing from their trauma. And yet, despite all of that, they succeeded. It was inspiring and an honor to witness their growth throughout this program.
All of us at Haven Hills believe this project has the potential to change systems and conditions for domestic violence survivors that traditional workforce strategies do not provide. We look forward to implementing the best practices learned through this pilot and cultivate relationships with additional training programs to provide more opportunities for survivors in our care. We also hope to better understand both the participants’ individual capacity for success within this context and our ability to provide the wrap-around services and follow-up required for long-term and sustained participant success.