When we think about the causes of homelessness, we often think about addictions, unemployment, poverty, physical and mental health difficulties. And while these are certainly contributory factors, in most cases the final factor is when the last supportive relationship keeping someone in secure accommodation breaks down.
In some cases, that relationship can break down and end violently. Usually the victim of such violence is female. Not every homeless woman is the victim of Gender Based Violence (GBV) and not every victim of GBV becomes homeless. However, GBV is a significant issue among women who find themselves with nowhere to stay and no one to turn to for support.
Bethany Christian Trust staff often meet women who are victims of GBV at our Care Shelter for people sleeping rough. Relationships formed within the homeless community can act as a protection from perpetrators of GBV. Those who are part of a community are better placed to look after themselves and avoid more dangerous situations.
However this knowledge is often acquired through difficult experiences. Even after a woman has moved away from an abusive relationship and become part of another community, whether homeless or not, their lives can still be dominated by fear of past relationships. One woman that we worked with, Kat, lived dominated by such fear. And although she was not homeless, she wanted to stay at the Care Shelter, as opposed to staying on her own. She preferred to stay at the shelter because there were others in the room. As Kat’s story illustrates, such fear is not limited to women sleeping rough.
“Do I uproot my kids or stay in this abusive marriage?” – This was the dilemma Kat faced as she tried to make a decision about the future of her children.
It was a tough choice. Leaving, she thought, would be selfish. After all, the family lived in a large house in an affluent part of town. The children were happy at school and, at least, he wasn’t beating them.
But one day, after another violent outburst by her husband, she concluded that she had had enough and left the family home with the children. She registered as homeless and got a place in a B&B. It was hard. She had to take the children out of school in case their dad found out where they lived. The B&B was only provided as an emergency. Kat’s housing officer asked her to start bidding for council housing, but she couldn’t find anything suitable.
In the next few months the family moved to another three B&Bs. Kat was wracked with guilt. Her kids only went to school intermittently; they missed their friends and the comfort of their old life. Kat often wondered if she should go back to her husband for the kids’ sake, they needed stability, even if it meant her own safety would be at risk.
Thankfully Kat was referred to a Bethany support worker, who helped her see that the situation would get better once she got a flat of her own. As well as receiving emotional support, Kat was supported throughout the Council bidding process and with the rental paperwork. Kat eventually got a suitable flat. The children are settling in their new school and for the first time in years Kat feels safe at home.
GBV can affect any woman and the results can be catastrophic for many years after the relationship ends, especially among children who experience the trauma of the events surrounding relationship breakdown and homelessness.
We all have a responsibility to support people around us in communities, to help women who are vulnerable to GBV and to bring perpetrators to justice. If we do, lives will be transformed, communities will be revitalised and the trauma of homelessness dramatically reduced.