When women flee domestic abuse, they are often forced to leave their homes, with nowhere else to turn. Landlords also sometimes turn victims of domestic violence out of their homes because of the violence against them. For years, advocates have known that domestic violence is a primary cause of homelessness for women and families. Studies from across the country confirm the connection between domestic violence and homelessness and suggest ways to end the cycle in which violence against women leads to life on the streets.
Domestic Violence and Homelessness
Trapped Between Violence and Homelessness Housing instability and a lack of safe and affordable housing options heightens the risks for women experiencing domestic violence, lack of alternative housing often leads women to stay in or return to violent relationships.
In Minnesota in 2003, for instance, 46 percent of homeless women reported that they had previously stayed in abusive relationships because they had nowhere to go. 1 In 2003, in Fargo, North Dakota, 44 percent of homeless women reported that they stayed in an abusive relationship at some point in the past two years because they did not have other housing options.
Abusers typically use violence as part of larger strategies to exercise power and control over their partners and isolate their partners from support networks. As a result, a woman who has experienced domestic violence will often have little or no access to money and very few friends or family members to rely on if she flees a violent relationship.
* Many landlords have adopted policies, such as “zero tolerance for crime” policies, that penalize victims of domestic violence. These policies allow landlords to evict tenants when violence occurs in their homes, regardless of whether the tenant is the victim or the perpetrator of the violence. A Michigan study of women currently or formerly receiving welfare found that women who had experienced recent or ongoing domestic violence were far more likely to face eviction than other women.
• Some landlords are unwilling to rent to a woman who has experienced domestic violence. For example, a 2005 investigation by a fair housing group in New York City found that 28 percent of housing providers either flatly refused to rent to a domestic violence victim or failed to follow up as promised when contacted by an investigator posing as a housing coordinator for a domestic violence survivor assistance program.
• Landlords often only learn about domestic violence because victims have sought the help of police or the courts. When victims know that they may face eviction if a landlord finds out about the abuse, they are less likely to seek this assistance and more likely to submit to the abuse. Domestic Violence and Poverty Poor women, who are more vulnerable to homelessness, are also at greater risk of domestic violence. Poverty limits women’s choices and makes it harder for them to escape violent relationships.
For instance: • While women at all income levels experience domestic violence, poor women experience domestic violence at higher rates than women with higher household incomes. Women with household incomes of less than $7,500 are 7 times as likely as women with household incomes over $75,000 to experience domestic violence.
•Women living in rental housing experience intimate partner violence at three times the rate of women who own their homes.
• Women living in poor neighborhoods are more likely to be the victims of domestic violence than women in more affluent neighborhoods. Indeed, women in financially distressed couples who live in a poor neighborhoods are twice as likely to be victims of domestic violence than women in equally financially distressed relationships living in more affluent neighborhoods.