By Destri Leger, Guest Columnist
November is here, bringing with it colder temperatures and tougher conditions for our homeless and housing-insecure community members, including victims and survivors of domestic violence. We often think of homeless and domestic violence populations as separate, but the two are frequently interconnected.
Though there are many reasons victims stay in abusive relationships, fear of entering into homelessness and a lack of attainable housing into which to relocate are strong deterrents to leaving.
One factor preventing victims from striking out on their own is the unavailability of permanent housing options. Victims and their families who are able to enter into emergency shelter often face stays up to 60 days or more because of little to no permanent housing prospects.
For many, these lengthy shelter stays mean a continued lack of stability for the entire family and feelings of hopelessness for survivors attempting to reestablish their lives. This lack of stability also inhibits victims with secondary issues such as mental health or substance use disorders from effectively working towards long term goals.
Jackson County’s limited affordable housing market puts a strain on many local renters. Victims of domestic violence face additional strain, however, because they must also consider safety in relation to the abuser, thus limiting their options geographically. In addition to safety barriers, domestic violence survivors often face another troublesome barrier: discrimination.
In the short history of HERE (Housing, Equity, Resources and Education), we have already experienced landlords, both men and women, unwilling to rent to domestic violence survivors because they “don’t want that stuff around” or who have taken action to evict individuals and their children solely because of this attribute.
Though landlords can be highly effective agents in the fight against domestic violence, many, unfortunately, become yet another barrier victims must contend with.
These barriers mean that even survivors who qualify for relocation and housing assistance often have trouble utilizing these resources due to the victim’s inability to access safe, affordable rental units.
It’s worth noting that victims are not the only group who face homelessness as a result of domestic violence. Oftentimes, the best scenario for the victim and their children is to remain in the home while the abuser is ordered by the court to leave.
For many abusers, this displacement leads directly to homelessness. Certainly, domestic violence perpetrators are a group many consider unworthy of sympathy.
Yet they’re nonetheless a significant part of our homeless population, with whom we as a community must ultimately contend. Domestic violence perpetrators often utilize similar expensive housing alternatives used by other homeless individuals, including hospital emergency rooms and county jails. Providing emergency shelter and permanent housing to this population is ultimately a more cost effective long-term solution, and it increases an abuser’s likelihood of accessing and benefiting from services such as mental health, substance use treatment and batterer intervention programs.
As we work together to expand the availability of safe, affordable housing in Jackson County, it’s important to remember that this resource is a vital component in the fight against domestic violence.
When difficult issues like domestic violence and homelessness are closely examined, it’s clear that a holistic, community approach is needed to address both. In order for us to reach our vision of a community free from both violence and homelessness, we need to remember these issues are often interrelated and address them accordingly.
Destri Leger is the founder and housing case manager at HERE in Jackson County and the regional lead of the WNC Homeless Coalition.