October is Domestic Violence Awareness month, and it’s an important occasion for anyone concerned about homelessness. As we note below, domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness—for women, in particular, as well as unaccompanied youth. For many, the only choice may be between continued abuse and fleeing their home. For those who lack the resources to secure alternate housing, the result may be homelessness—and further violence.
In the absence of sufficient safe, affordable housing or stable shelter, many survivors join other homeless people living in public places. There, they face increased exposure to violence, as indicated by the shocking number of crimes committed against them. For homeless women, rape is disturbingly prevalent.
Life without safe housing presents other dangers, too, for both women and men. Without a street address, it is difficult to maintain a legal identity, making it challenging or impossible to access vital resources such as health care. And without safe storage or refrigeration, it may be impossible to maintain medication regimens. Illnesses, both chronic and acute, are much more prevalent among homeless people, and life expectancy is shorter. Life without housing is an assault on mind, body, and dignity.
Protecting the housing rights of domestic violence survivors—and making housing resources available—is critical to preventing and ending their homelessness. Enacting legislation to expand and strengthen the Violence Against Women Act, now pending in Congress, would be a critical step toward that goal. Ensuring the human right to housing for all homeless and at-risk people would go further, ensuring safety and dignity for all.
- Maria Foscarinis, Executive Director