Homelessness and Domestic Violence
Whenever I see a homeless person, I experience a range of emotions: grateful for having a home; guilty for having a nice one; shame at allowing people to live outside without convenient access to bathroom facilities and vulnerable to the elements; wondering if their homelessness is caused by mental illness, substance abuse, or the high cost of housing; and, ultimately, compassion.
Homeless man taking a shower outside
On occasion, I’ll be waiting at a stoplight and there will be a homeless person with a sign that reads: “Homeless, please help.” I reach into my wallet and extend a $10 or $20 bill. Often the recipient shows humility and expresses gratitude.
My husband disagrees with my generosity. With almost full employment, he wonders why seemingly healthy people aren’t working.
This past spring, I seriously considered offering our guest bedroom to a homeless person. My husband said, “Please don’t.” Friends counseled me, “Not a good idea.” I shared my thoughts with another member of the board of directions for Human Options, a non-profit dedicated to ending domestic violence and abuse. She said, “Honorable intention, but not good for the homeless. They need access to social services.”
A valid point: social services are not available in our neighborhood.
That same board member suggested that I contact a homeless shelter and offer our extra bedroom to someone who may know they’re facing homelessness and is looking for a temporary solution until they can get back on their feet.
Thinking that was a good idea, I made a mental note to follow up.
That was two months ago.
I haven’t and can offer a list of excuses a mile long.
The truth is, inviting a stranger into our home and fearing someone with mental problems, substance abuse, or thievery and violating our hospitality–I’ve done nothing.
As I’ve shared in previous blogs, I’m a member of the Board of Directors for Human Options.
The organization speaks to me because I grew up in a violent environment, and my heart breaks for those who experience interpersonal violence. (The theme of my work-in-progress second novel, The Sheriff’s Wife, is about domestic violence and abuse.)
At the Human Options Board Meeting in May, the CEO, Maricela Rios-Faust, shared:
–In 2017, Orange County’s Point in Time count found that almost a third of the homeless had experienced domestic violence in the last year and,
–A study conducted by UCI found that family issues, including domestic violence, are significant factors that lead to homelessness for more than a quarter of the homeless population.
How prevalent is domestic violence and abuse?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice:
Maricela listed the following points in her CEO Report and permitted me to include them in this blog.
- Domestic Violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and their children. Many victims face homelessness when they flee abusive homes. Economic instability compounds their experiences, often perpetuated by abusers.
Homeless mother sleeping outside with her children
- A victim of domestic violence will leave an abuser an average of seven times before finally escaping the violence, therefore, experiencing multiple periods of homelessness.
- Abusers commonly sabotage a victim’s economic stability, making victims more vulnerable to homelessness. Many victims and survivors of domestic violence have trouble finding rental properties because they may have poor credit, rental, and employment histories as a result of their abuse.
- The vast majority – over 80% — of survivors entering shelters identified “finding housing I can afford” as a need, second to “safety for myself.”
The Good News
I found comfort from an article on the front page of the June 2, 2018 edition of the Los Angeles Times that reported homelessness is declining.
United Way, along with several philanthropic organizations in Orange County, are working together to bring awareness and solutions. I applaud and support their efforts.
Human Options is also helping. Through the Human Options’ Emergency Shelter (45 days) and Transitional Housing Program (up to six months), sanctuary, case management, counseling, and legal advocacy helps men, women, and children who’ve experienced domestic violence to avoid homelessness.
In the time it has taken you to read this, ten people have been assaulted and three more survivors with their children are homeless.
What about you? Have you considered offering a stranger a place to live? Do you know someone who did? What was their experience?
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Warmest Regards, Michele
P.S. If you’re interested in reading my novel, Busted, which shows both sides of the drug debate, please click on Amazon.