We have the honor of having a piece published in UNCENSORED, American Family Experiences with Poverty and Homelessness, a magazine published by The Institute for Children, Poverty and Homelessness. The entire article and issue can be viewed in PDF format by clicking here. We are featured on pages 29-30. Here is an excerpt from the piece:
Imagine a seven-year-old girl named Crystal. She has dark brown hair and brown eyes. She’s wearing jeans that are too big on her and a boy’s t-shirt. Crystal is trying to read a book in the dim light on her bed in her family’s room in a homeless shelter. Her mother is exhausted and asleep after more than a full day at work. Just last week, they were living in their own apartment with her father. Since losing his job a year ago, her father started sitting around the apartment all day and drinking heavily. He also became verbally and physically abusive to her mom, who was trying to keep the family afloat with the little that she made at her own job. But as tensions increased and her father became more violent, Crystal’s mom made the difficult decision to leave in order to protect herself and her daughter. Crystal misses her father, but she also hates when he gets mad and yells at her mom. The walls of their shelter room are thin and Crystal can hear the family next door. There’s a man yelling at his wife. He’s using profanity and starting to throw things. Crystal hears a loud crash against the wall they share. She’s scared and drops her book on the floor.
The life of Crystal is an all-too-common scenario for many children who have lived with domestic violence (DV). According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, a majority of homeless women are victims of DV. Citing the U.S. Conference of Mayors, they also report that 28% of families are homeless due to DV and 39% of cities asserted that DV is the main cause of family homelessness. Many parents face the almost impossible decision of staying in a violent home or taking steps to flee for their safety. In these difficult economic times, even many of those mothers who are working are left with too few resources to make the courageous step to leave. The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) views this as a major crisis situation. NNEDV President Sue Else states, “Job losses, the lack of affordable health care, the housing crisis… are increasing abuse and leaving survivors with fewer options to escape.”
For every woman who enters a DV shelter, there are countless others who do not. Reasons for not entering shelter include fear of being found by an abuser, lack of support from family and friends, failed attempts to report the abuse to law enforcement, and lack of insight into the abuse they are suffering. In many communities, there is a plethora of misinformation about what it means to be in a DV relationship. Some women experienced abuse in their own homes at the hands of their parents and grow up believing this is normal. There is stigma and fear of reporting abuse as doing so could lead to further abuse and isolation.
Some women who are victims of DV have the courage and ability to leave their abusive environment and enter DV shelters. Safe Horizon is the largest victims’ service organizationin New York City, and the country, with 425 beds throughout the city. Safe Horizon provides emergency shelter to an average of 3,100 children and families each year. In addition to these crisis services, transitional housing is available to assist women and their children. Other services include child care, mental health counseling, job readiness training, housing assistance, medical aid, as well as life skills and parenting classes.
However, even with organizations like Safe Horizon out there, many families who have experienced DV are ending up in the general homeless shelter system. But why? Maybe there aren’t enough DV beds available or the services aren’t coordinated enough to meet the needs of these families so they are falling behind. Because of this, the traditional homeless shelter system needs to have extensive DV advocates in place to better assess and provide referrals for DV specific services. Once in the shelter system, victims need to be provided with support and advocacy to help bring their DV to light and assist them in breaking the cycle of violence. As discussed earlier, many women do not initially identify as victims of DV. With on-going mental health support, information, and education on what it means to be in a DV relationship, and peer support, these women may gain the courage to disclose their experiences. With this realization and disclosure, advocates can then provide more focused DV services for the entire family.
All of this turmoil creates uncertainty in the lives of the children who are affected. According to the National Center for Homeless Education (NCHE) at SERVE, children who are victims of a violent home and face homelessness suffer an endless list of potential issues, including emotional and behavioral problems, violent behavior toward peers, adjustment issues, placing blame on themselves for the abuse, inability to concentrate and retain information, poor nutrition, inadequate sleep patterns, and severe emotional distress. These are only a few areas of concern for the child who experiences DV. As a child grows older and has to navigate the world in new ways, many more issues will surface. These children may begin to imitate some of the abusive behaviors in their own relationships or take on the role of the victim. The cycle of violence is in danger of continuing on from generation to generation without adequate intervention.
Often DV specific shelters are focused primarily on providing services to the women involved. This is critical in helping women develop the skills and confidence to succeed outside of their dangerous relationships. Some DV shelters may have supportive services for children, but it is vital that these children also continue to receive supportive services in their schools, so the negative effects of the abuse have minimal affect on their development.
To read the entire article (pgs 29-30) and view the whole issue in PDF format, please click here.