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Homelessness and Women: Causes and Impacts

Info: 4674 words (19 pages) Nursing Essay
Published: 11th Feb 2020

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Tagged: homelessness

Homelessness and Women

Homelessness is a growing social problem that affects any individual in the United States. Homelessness does not discriminate against men, women, and children. It is the beginning of a downward spiral that many find themselves homeless face. Evidence suggests that, “the number of families experiencing homelessness is greatest in America compared to all other industrialized nations and has now reached historic proportions (BassukCenter, 2018). Driven by the lack of national housing policy, decrease in federal assistance to the poor, and the dramatic growth in female-headed households that shifted millions of families into poverty, the number of families experiencing homelessness has steadily increased. One in five families is now headed by a woman alone (BassukCenter, 2018). Families are the largest growing portion of the homeless population. Research suggests that mothers are young parents under the age of twenty-five. Young mothers experience more limitations in education or work skills. The high costs and substandard housing are the cause of loss of the house that leads to homelessness. Family homelessness is strongly linked to domestic violence. Households consisting of a mother with children are ten times more likely to experience intimate partner violence than their married counterparts, and six times more likely than single females without children (ICPH, 2015). Unfortunately, women with children have the highest risks turning to the streets, shelters, or family. This paper will explore the link between family homelessness and domestic violence, the effects on children, and types of accommodations.

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Homeless women face oppression. Oppression occurs when people experience unjust treatment and prevent opportunities based on their social identity group. The homeless population suffers various barriers due to their class, appearance, and gender. Oppression and privilege exist one another. According to Ferber, “Privilege confers power, dominance, resources, and rewards. Privilege derive from one’s group membership or social location. It is not the result of anything that one has done as an individual.” Homelessness is often forgotten. People of privilege understand their own experiences and upbringings than those who are less fortunate and experience traumatic situations. The basic needs of shelter, water, and food are essential for every individual, but those who do not suffer the loss of housing would not create solutions or support policies to end homelessness.

Intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, demonstrates how discrimination does overlaps among marginalized groups. According to Williams, intersectionality is a sociological theory describing multiple threats of bias when an individual’s identities overlap with many minority classes such as race, gender, age, ethnicity, health, and other characteristics.” The illustration of intersectionality is to make oppressions visible to those who are privileged hidden. These components of intersectionality are to understand the social injustices and forms of oppression. In society, the perception of homelessness is ignored, presumed in the laziness of those individuals, and socioeconomic inequality. The homeless population subject to discrimination by social exclusion, stigma, stereotypes, and prejudice. Homelessness is a complex web of social and economic experiences. The perspective of intersectionality helps to understand the overlapping situations one experiences. This paper will examine the intersection of gender and class of homeless women and children. This perspective leads to the invisible and hidden large population of homelessness to understand how women become homeless through social and economic factors of lack of affordable housing and domestic violence. Women are more likely to be vulnerable as targets of victimization. These experiences left under statistics that are not visible to societal mainstream media. In this paper, I will explore the experiences women and children face.

The topic of homelessness raises awareness in our society. Homelessness is an intractable complex cause often referred to as a social condition. In our community, we view homelessness as a “bums” or “lazy,” but they are people who suffer from social disabilities or financial problems. We at least know someone that is homeless or has experienced homelessness. I have not experienced homelessness I do have a close relative who has. You never think it can happen to you or someone close, but this happens every day.

My recent volunteer work at Raphael’s Life House which is a transitional living program for women who are between eighteen and twenty-three enlightened me to research this topic more thoroughly. The services it offers include classes on prenatal care and parenting, educational and vocational training and life skills programs for budgeting and building self-esteem. During my time at Raphael’s Life House, I tended in child care throughout the semester called Baby Dove Club. The childcare support allowed mothers to dedicate their time in classes and job-ready programs. Some of the mothers shared their stories. Many of their stories overlapped when it came to domestic violence, abandonment of families when they found out she was pregnant and loss of housing or unemployment. It can happen to anyone at any given time. In my life, I have been privileged not to experience homelessness, but I do want to understand what women and families go through. My career path is to become a social worker. The field of social work is so open to many opportunities that my volunteer work as

inspired me to explore working with women and children.

As women and children are the fastest growing subpopulation among the homelessness, they are mainly the most vulnerable. The leading cause of homelessness among women is domestic violence. Domestic violence is the pattern of abusive mental, emotional and/or physical behavior between two intimate partners in which one partner maintains power and control over their counterpart. Domestic violence is the root of power, control, and inequality. Domestic violence manifests on physical, psychological, economic, sexual and emotional controlled behavior. Intimate partner violence is one of the many factors for homelessness, and the interactive combination of IPV with poverty, unemployment, low levels of education, and/ or having young children puts a woman at higher risk of homelessness (Long, 2015). Homelessness does not determine the one particular cause but a cluster of social factors. Although it can occur for both men and women, it commonly occurs on women. Even in the United States, it has been reported that 85% of all violent crime experienced by women are cases of intimate partner violence, compared to 3% of violent crimes experienced by men (Kaur & Garg, 2008). Domestic violence is a gender issue and to be understood of the gender inequality between men and women. In states that have looked at domestic violence and welfare receipt, most report that approximately 50-60% of current recipients say that they have experienced violence from a current or former male partner (Network to End Domestic Violence, 2007).

Intimate partner violence occurs behind closed doors. Home is a place of security, comfort, and love but among family domestic violence the home is threatened that affects all members of the family. Evidence suggest, sustained depression and PTSD among women reporting intimate partner violence is common as are mental health issues for homeless women and children (Gilroy, McFarlane, Maddoux, & Sullivan, 2016). Housing instability is the inability to maintain residency due to personal and financial hardships. Domestic violence is among the leading causes of housing instability (including homelessness) nationally for women (Baker, Billhardt, Warren, Rollins, & Glass, 2010, p. 430). Housing instability is four times more likely for IPV survivors compared to their non-victimized counterparts (Gilroy et al., 2016). The violence within the household creates an unsafe housing environment. Women choose to stay because they have nowhere to go. Some women quoted that they “may stay in a relationship with a person who abuses them physically or sexually because the risks associated with leaving—homelessness, hunger, poverty, violence on the streets, lack of resources for children, risk of further abuse by additional perpetrators—seems worse than abuse” (Goodman, Fels, & Glenn, 2006, p.4).

The lack of affordable housing challenges domestically abused females from obtaining a house. Intimate partner violence was noted as a risk factor for both housing instability and homelessness, and abuse was most common among unstably housed women (Gilroy et at., 2016). Insufficient availability of affordable housing and housing discrimination preclude women’s access to secure housing, as landlords may refuse tenants due to risks that existing or previous violent partners pose to inhabitants and their property, rental histories marred by multiple relocations or evictions, or criminal history (Baker et al., 2010). Women are less likely to seek help through fear and consequences of leaving, consequences for reporting, and shame to be a victim. At the home women may perceive the known threats at home as less risky than facing homelessness with their children, as the initial effects of leaving pose more immediate harm than the potential future consequences of staying with an abusive partner. Victims suffer in silence. The violence in the home does not influence healthy growth and development.

Children exposed to domestic violence remain invisible. Domestic violence burdens the child involved with the abuse or by witnessing the issue. Children who witness domestic violence suffer from low self-esteem and a wide range of emotional problems and were more likely to use force in almost all situations. Although the brutality is not directed towards them, it does affect their health and well-being. The exposure of children in the household depends on the frequency and intensity of the violent acts. The traumatic stress of witnessing domestic violence affects children negatively impacts their behavioral, emotional, and cognitive development and academics. A child’s education is conflicted of a repeated grade, expelled, poor academic performance or drop out. Research suggests that between 3.3 million and 10 million children in the United States are exposed to domestic violence each year (Carter, Weithorn, & Behrman, 1999). Mothers are in constant fear and safety for their children it interferes with their loveable and nurture bond. Mothers intend to shield the children from acts of violence. Allen, Wolf, Bybee, & Sullivan (2003) report children heard the violence and remained in their bedrooms because they were afraid to leave. The indirect exposure and presence of violence are just as harmful if directed to them. Typically, children are in the next room or same room during the assault. Children imitate parents’ actions, and the exposure of domestic violence will be synonymous as adults of either the victim or perpetrator. The traumatic events among children affect their health, education, relationship, and social issues as they grow into adults.

Intimate partner violence follows victims to the workplace. The abuser intends to sabotage the women’s access to employment and education needed for independence. The intention is during work to interfere with work duties. Victims of intimate partner violence are more likely to suffer from an absentee, tardiness, and distraction in the workplace than those persons not affected by IPV (Anderson, Fallin & Mdallal, 2014). These disturbances incline poor work performance. The physical assault occurs for time lost at work so no one would notice bruises or injuries. The absentee and tardiness make the person less valuable and dependable as an employee. Another form of domestic violence is the non-physical tactic of mental, emotional, stalking, harassment and economic. Victims harassed by excessive phone calls or stalked acts as a distraction. The Corporate Alliance to End Partner Violence conducted a survey from July to September 2005 of 1,200 currently employed men and women. Twenty-one percent of the respondents to that survey identified themselves as victims of IPV. Sixty-four percent of the victims reported adverse effects in the workplace; 57% were distracted on the job, 40% experienced harassment at work, and 21% were terminated (Anderson et al., 2014). Victims of intimate partner violence are vulnerable in a precarious financial situation for the dependency to provide for her children and the basic needs for survival. The lack of support from employers leads to termination or resignation as they view domestic violence as a personal nature. The loss of a job reinforces the dependency on abusive partners to meet financial needs and prevents them from leaving.

The economic dependence determines the decision to either stay with their abuser or risk their life on the streets especially with children. Studies of IPV applying social disorganization concepts have shown that women living in neighborhoods with above-average levels of economic deprivation or below-average levels of collective efficacy (i.e., social ties and social support) were significantly more likely to be victimized by their partners than women living in more economically advantaged neighborhoods (Maume, Lanier, Hossfled, & Wehman, 2014). Women with higher incomes stay in their homes and force the abuser to leave. Women with lower income are at a higher risk to be “stuck” with the abusive partner. Social isolation is the lack of contact or of sustained interaction with individuals and institutions that represent mainstream society (Lanier & Maume, 2009). The intimate partner withdrawal any communication to friends, family, or community for the women to seek help. Women without economic power who leave an abusive partner make a forced choice between safety (leaving) and shelter (staying) (Long, 2015). The decision to leave the abuser is difficult when the mother and children do not have the means for resources. The women face the barrier of a forced decision to choose between their abusive relationship and homelessness. Under certain circumstance, some women still have connections to informal sources of support and move in with family or friends. “Doubling up” with family and friend can be difficult as a temporary

living situation. When informal supports are no longer able to help alleviate escalating violence, or when living with others becomes untenable, women reach out to formal support sources. Recent legislation which reauthorized the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance programs has changed their definition so that victims fleeing domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking in their current housing situation is defined as homeless and therefore would be legible for HUD services for homeless people (Baker et al., 2010). President Obama signed this legislation in 2009.

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Women hesitate to flee domestic violence. Fear is a top indicator of prevention because of the unknown and the consequences of leaving. All women want for their children is security. Women and children fleeing domestic violence are impotent populations. Women are vulnerable to social and economic isolation. 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 (ACLU, 2018). Four barriers made it difficult for mothers to reestablish their families: dealing with children, having low internal resources, having few external resources, and the economic conditions of the neighborhood (long, 2015). The challenges to obtain long-term housing on their effects the return to the abuser.  Many landlords adopting “zero tolerance for crime” policies may evict IPV victims on the basis that domestic violence is a crime. Such policies penalize tenants who are the recipients, not the perpetrators, of abuse (ACLU, 2018).

The decision to leave diminishes the abuser’s power of control but acts as barriers for safety and shelter. The resources for external assistance of social support or shelter services are stretched thin. Among the homeless population, shelters serve as protected and supported services for abused mothers and children to recover from the violence. There are various housing options for women who leave their abusive partner. Shelters distinguish the availability and funding received to sustain an open door policy. Also, shelters have regulations and policies on eligibility met when entering a shelter. However, short-term options are not always accessible because of the limited capacity and time. The service programs include emergency shelter, transitional shelters/housing and permanent supportive housing.

Shelters give the family a short term of relief typically of about thirty days. Emergency shelters accommodate short-term services needed. Housing services assessed by victims of emergency shelter that include domestic violence shelters, homeless shelters, and motel vouchers (Baker et al., 2010). Emergency shelters are inclusive shelters for both men and women that reside in the same building. The coexistence leaves little space and privacy. There are minimal safety regulations for domestic survivors. The services of public areas increase potential harassment or assault from other men or the abusive partner. Domestic violence shelters offer a 24- hour safe heaven, often with a private location, and allows women to stay from about thirty to sixty days. The focus is on the victims for their safety and support groups. The use of motels vouchers is an alternative shelter to utilize when shelters are full capacity.

Transitional shelters or housing assistance transition women and children from homeless shelter to reintegrating back to society in a permanent house. The services accompany women through therapy, independent living skills, education, and job readiness. The survivors and children can live there for a designated time. It offers longer stability for women and children for about one to two years. Among the transitional housing, safety and security are essential for women and children. One program, known as Housing First focuses on the immediate access to permanent housing for homeless people. There are prerequisites to receive services. Transitional housing or shelter does not guarantee after a particular time that the family would transition into a permanent housing program. 

Permanent supportive housing programs offer women and children the potential for stable housing. Permanent housing is the first-line response to family homelessness, and numerous studies have shown that housing subsidies are essential for preventing and ending family homelessness (BassukCenter, 2018). Permanent supportive housing is community based housing for rental assistance for families experiencing homelessness. Public Housing provides subsidized housing for low income families. Specifically, with Section 8, women are given a voucher that can be taken to any rental unit as long as the landlord has applied, been accepted into the Federal Section 8 program and will accept the vouchers (Baker et al, 2010). Housing is the first response for homeless families. Funding is a significant limitation as there is only a certain amount of available units. The length of waiting lists to obtain vouchers is excessive from several weeks to several years in some communities (Baker et al., 2010).  The systems of funding sources, policies, and regulations promote assistance but create obstacles. These negative unintended consequences burden the victims of domestic violence.

 It is important to recognize the severity of the effects of domestic violence among women and children. This subpopulation is usually invisible victims. There is no simple solution to domestic abuse, however the improvement of policies and programs can help ensure the safety and new beginning.  Homelessness and domestic violence is a social problem. Society is accountable for ignoring women and children as victims. Within the workplace, social supports and informal supports must recognize the signs and symptoms. The research presents the abusive tactic to eliminate any social support, financial independence and the effects on children. The superiority of control prevents women from reporting abuse.

Domestic violence is a violation of the women’s right. The violence that occurs among mothers and children is not humane and necessary for solution.   Domestic violence does not discriminate. The perpetrator craves for power and control among the victim as an abusive tactic. Homeless families have higher rates of family violence than any other population. Abused women indicate the predictor of homelessness. Children who witness domestic violence suffer from low self-esteem and a wide range of emotional problems and were more likely to use force in almost all situations. Although the brutality is not directed towards them, it does affect their health and well-being. Intimate partner violence follows victims in the workplace. The lack of support from employers leads to termination or resignation as they view domestic violence as a personal nature.

The formal resources for battered women and children assist an exit away from the violent relationship. There is a link between domestic violence, homelessness and housing instability. It is clear that among the homeless population services must reevaluate the programs and systems to effectively respond to survivors. Physical and psychological abuse, lack of adequate housing and economic strictures of funding programs all contribute to, and perpetuate, the oppression of battered women and their children.

 My topic illustrates the intersectional perspective as it highlights the experiences of domestic violence among women. The intersectional perspective allows to view the privilege and oppression of domestic violence and homeless women. My volunteer experience and research accommodates a deeper understanding the experiences of domestic violence survivors.  It is important to empathize the victims as this does occur behind closed door and unforeseen injuries under clothing to recognize signs and offer reinforcement. Under any policy there are positive and negative affects enforced. Women face dangers in their own home and homelessness with nowhere to go. I learned that I want to become more involved and advocate for women and children who experience family violence.

 While researching this topic I learn that domestic violence survivors experience different scenarios different from single women. Women with children are more likely to stay in an abusive relationship for the child’s safety under a roof than in the streets. Women know what their abuser is capable and rather inflict the pain for their child’s sake. Shelters and programs are willing to accept women with children over single women. Family domestic violence is closed behind doors where women are not likely to report the abusive incidents. Social policies of domestic violence and homelessness are not integrated. Typically, women with children are under the category of hidden homeless when the family enters a homeless shelter or emergency shelter that does not statistically specify the cause of homelessness is domestic violence. Also, women with children may “double up” to live with relatives or friends or live in cars, abandoned buildings or motels that goes underreported. After this semester, I will be able to volunteer again at Raphael’s Life House. I will like to hear more stories of the women and offer my assistance in any way. This is an important issue that has a long traumatic history which needs the necessary assistance. Society needs to stop pointing blame at the victim and begin advocating for change


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Homelessness occurs for a variety of different reasons. Economic strain, loss of jobs as well as the inability to find more work, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, and gross financial management just to name a few. It is imperative that primary prevention strategies such as information, education, and interventions be given to those persons at risk of becoming homeless.

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