Following the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty released There’s No Place Like Home, a state-by-state overview of housing protection laws for survivors of domestic and sexual violence. According to the report, VAWA’s protections—while laudable—are limited in scope, applying only to residents of federally funded public housing and excluding victims of sexual assault who are not intimately involved with their abuser.
VAWA’s exclusions carry several implications for efforts to end homelessness among families, children, and youth in Connecticut. Domestic violence is a prevailing cause of homelessness among families. Of women experiencing homelessness in America, up to 100 percent have experienced domestic or sexual violence at some point in their lives. Many reported the violence as the immediate cause of their homelessness. In 2012, Connecticut’s domestic violence agencies reported that 87% of unmet requests were for housing and shelter.
Mothers in this position are left with two stark options: living on the streets or staying with their abuser. Most women—thinking of their children’s well-being—will choose to live with the abuse over the perils of housing and financial instability, putting themselves at risk of continued abuse and exposing their children to the risk and effects of domestic and sexual violence. Additionally, national data suggests that large portions of unaccompanied youth who are homeless are attempting to flee traumatic conflict at home.
We understand the connections between domestic violence and homelessness, and we certainly understand the importance of preventing and eradicating both. As a state, we can and must turn this collective vision into a uniform reality. We must guarantee that when a woman flees abuse, her family can access shelter. Additionally we must address the obstacles and barriers to long-term housing that often lead a survivor to return to her abuser. With some strategic thinking, we can address this unmet need and achieve our overlapping goals.
Nichole Guerra is a policy analyst for the Partnership for Strong Communities.
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