Homelessness and Sexual Violence
November 17th, 2020
by Dominique Morales
Since 2007, the month of November has been declared National Homeless Youth Awareness Month, marking a time to acknowledge those children and families experiencing homelessness and the risk associated with. According to a 2020 report by the National Alliance to End Homeless it is estimated that there are 567,715 people experiencing homelessness in the U.S, with CA accounting for 151,278 of these individuals and 1,483 people experiencing homelessness right here locally in SLO County.
Although high rates of homelessness are often associated with housing issues, such as high housing costs and rent burdens, there is no one reason that causes an individual to experience homelessness. Struggles dealing with both physical and mental health, access to health care, income, racial disparities, as well as those looking to escape domestic violence and sexual violence all are contributing factors that can lead an individual to experience homelessness. “I think many people have a lot of misconceptions about homelessness when the truth is there is never just one cause to fit all cases,” says Megan Toohey, Homeless Services Worker at Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County (CAPSLO).
While these factors affect all demographics, one factor that has been an increasing immediate cause for homelessness is domestic violence. Experiences of domestic violence are common among youth, single adults, and families who become homeless. Additionally, domestic violence has been found to be a primary cause of homelessness for women and families. Often having nowhere else to go, survivors of domestic violence may turn to homeless service programs seeking a safe temporary place to stay after fleeing an abusive relationship. Another reason survivors may experience homelessness and/or seek out service programs primarily is because they lack the economic resources to secure or maintain housing after leaving an abusive relationship.
Income and access to resources are two factors that play a significant role in a survivor of staying in an abusive relationship and/or experiencing homelessness. Abusers typically use violence as part of larger strategies to exercise power and control over their partners and isolate their partners from support networks. Additionally, poverty and level of income limit an individual’s options and makes it harder for them to escape violent relationships. All these factors often leave an individual who has experienced domestic violence with little to no access to money and very few friends or family members to rely on if they escape a violent relationship. As a result, this can lead to an individual experiencing homeless.
When discussing the needs of survivors of domestic violence experiencing homelessness, the main objective is concerned in safety. Current solutions often involve emergency shelter or transitional housing program before re-entering their own independent housing. However, while Short or long-term rental assistance can be used to help survivors exit shelter and regain housing, they offer temporary solutions. It is important that we shift to permanent solutions such as affordable housing. Having an affordable place to call home is crucial for this population, to both reduce their risk of homelessness as well as the possibility of future violence. Research indicates that families experiencing homelessness that receive a housing subsidy are far less likely to experience interpersonal violence than those that do not.
Beyond the scope of their immediate safety and housing needs, survivors of domestic violence require services that can help them heal from the trauma of abuse and improve their economic security and well-being. Homelessness can trigger, add to or exacerbate this trauma making it vital that these services are widely available to this community. When speaking about homelessness, we must understand the many dynamics that cause an individual to experience it Toohey says. “Above all I think the most important thing to understand that it is not a person’s fault that they are experiencing homelessness. They don’t need judgement, they need support”.
If you are being abused and need immediate assistance, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE.
RISE also has a Toll-free 24-hr Crisis Line, 855-886-RISE (7473), available 24-hours a day to support survivors of sexual assault or abuse and intimate partner violence in San Luis Obispo County.
40Prado Homeless Services Center (SLO) (805) 541-7963
ECHO Homeless Shelter (Atascadero) 805-462-3663
Good Samaritan Homeless Shelter (Santa Maria) 805-347-3338 ext. 101
Other Domestic Violence Shelters
Stand Strong (Women’s Shelter Program) (SLO) 781-6400
Domestic Violence Solutions (Santa Maria) 925-2160
Medical and Mental Health Services
Community Health Centers 805-792-1400 (Atas), 805-238-7250 (Paso), 805-269-1350 (SLO)
Community Counseling Center 805-226-5196 (Paso), 805-543-7969 (SLO)
County Mental Health 1-800-838-1381
Drug & Alcohol Services 805-781-4275
Planned Parenthood 888-898-3806
The Center for Health & Prevention 805-544-2478
Access Support Network (HIV & Hep C support) 805-781-3660