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Domestic Violence & Homelessness

Wed, Oct 26, 2011

Jim LoBianco

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This week’s StreetWise Magazine cover story (pg. 12) calls attention to the plight of immigrant women and how their problems are compounded as they try to find ways to deal with abuse within their homes. Thanks to years of much-needed public awareness campaigns, as a society we know that domestic violence does not discriminate. This insidious problem is found in every household stratum regardless of citizenship, income, race, gender or ethnicity. One particularly disturbing outcome of domestic violence is the correlation between it and those who populate Chicago’s homeless shelter system.

The 2004 research study, “Pathways to and from Homelessness: Women and Children in Chicago Shelters” revealed that, of the women interviewed, “over one-half (56%) of the sample disclosed that they had been victims of domestic violence, twice the prevalence found in national research samples.” The ugly reality is that domestic violence is one of the top three leading causes of homelessness, joining mental illness and addiction.

The study goes to reveal that, “in 22% of the cases, domestic violence was the immediate cause of homelessness.” The reason why domestic violence so frequently leads to homelessness is no great mystery. The fact is that domestic abusers seek to control their victims. They severely limit the victim’s access to opportunities and resources that an individual needs to exist on their own, (e.g. the women are prevented from working, with the result that when they leave the abuser they have no money or work history).

In order to successfully recover from domestic violence, victims need specialized assistance for themselves and their children. It has been widely accepted for years that domestic violence victims who find themselves homeless should be housed in specialized domestic violence shelters where their needs can be met. Unfortunately, as in so many other social service areas, the need far outstrips the demand.

The Chicago Department of Family and Support Services reports that, in 2011, there are only 112 City-funded homeless shelter beds dedicated to the specialized needs of domestic violence victims. Victims and their children who cannot access specialized beds are placed in a general shelter bed. Their basic needs for food and shelter are met, but they do not receive counseling to recover from the trauma of domestic violence or the resources necessary to rebuild their lives safe from the abuser.

The 2004 study determined that there was not a system in place to track women and children who entered the shelter system because of domestic violence, but were unable to access a specialized bed. Ideally, victims of domestic violence should be able to transfer when beds free up in domestic violence shelters so that they and their children can obtain specialized case management, therapeutic support, and linkage to needed legal services to remain safe. In 2011 the system does not appear to be any better.

1 – http://www.chicagohomeless.org/files/images/homelessnessreport.pdf

I would greatly appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. You are welcome to contact me at either tipline@streetwise.org or (773) 334-6600 (ext. 18).

Jim LoBianco
StreetWise Executive Director

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