Homelessness and Domestic Violence: What’s the Connection?

In the United States, there may be as many as 10 million people who experience domestic violence every year. Unfortunately, since homelessness and domestic violence are inextricably linked, some of these households will experience homelessness.

Since October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it’s a good time to take stock of the scope of domestic violence in America and what our shelters can do to help households fleeing abuse. This topic is important to all emergency shelters (not just domestic violence shelters), as domestic violence survivors tend to end up in a variety of shelters.

So why are homelessness and domestic violence linked? There are numerous, complex reasons, but I want to bring your attention to one that’s thought of less frequently. In addition to physical and emotional abuse, many domestic violence survivors also experience financial abuse, which is when an abuser either limits or denies access to household finances

This has many implications for survivors fleeing an abusive situation. They may not be able to access bank accounts or credit cards. They may have poor credit history, which might make it hard to rent a home. They may lack an employment history, which often means it’s harder to find employment.

These factors all lead to an increased likelihood for housing instability or homelessness. They also set those who experience domestic violence up for an impossible decision: do they remain in an abusive situation or risk becoming homeless?

Many households will choose to leave an abusive situation, or explore the possibility of doing so. Let’s take a look at some recent statistics about the scope of domestic violence and homelessness:

  • On a single day in September 2014, 67,646 adults and children received assistance from domestic violence programs across the country. Nearly 24,000 adults and children (40 percent of the total served on that day) were provided with emergency shelter assistance.
  • About half of all homeless women report that domestic violence was directly responsible for their homelessness.
  • In a survey of 25 major American cities, 16 percent of all homeless people reported that they had experienced domestic violence.

For many who flee an abusive home, domestic violence shelters are the only thing keeping them off the streets—yet thousands are unable to enter a domestic violence shelter each year. In a single fiscal year (FY 2013), 186,522 households who wanted to enter a domestic violence shelter were unable to do so.

Often, this means that these households go to other shelters, where staff who may not be as attuned to important issues such as trauma-informed care, safety planning, financial empowerment, or housing rights specific to domestic violence survivors.

Domestic violence is an issue that can impact anyone. It is not limited by race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, or any other variable. This means that, while domestic violence shelters serve a critical role in all communities, every homeless service provider should be attentive to the needs of survivors.

So while Domestic Violence Awareness Month is a great time to bring attention to the issue, let’s all work together to make every month count.

To learn how to tailor rapid re-housing interventions to domestic violence survivors, check out our Domestic Violence Toolkit.