Domestic Violence, Housing Instability and Coronavirus
Domestic violence correlates with housing insecurity, as 92% of women experiencing homelessness report having experienced severe physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives, and upwards of 50% of all homeless women report that domestic violence was the immediate cause of their homelessness. Conversely, housing insecurity can lead to an increased risk of domestic violence as housing-insecure people are often forced to stay with abusive partners as they are unable to afford an apartment of their own. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in stay-at-home orders being issued around the country forcing millions of people to shelter-in-place with abusive partners, exacerbating the perils domestic violence victims face. Several major cities have already seen large increases in domestic violence arrests and reports compared to last year.
Financial abuse, rampant in abusive relationships, makes it difficult for survivors to leave their abusers. Without more affordable housing options, survivors of domestic violence are forced to make the impossible choice between staying with an abuser or facing the challenges of homelessness.
Addressing the Needs of Domestic Violence Survivors During the Pandemic
The recent CARES Act provided a $4 billion increase in Emergency Solution Grant (ESG) homeless assistance funding. ESG is a flexible pot of money that can be used for a variety of efforts to prevent or alleviate homelessness. The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) writes that domestic and sexual violence programs are eligible to apply for ESG funding to meet the needs of survivors at risk of homelessness. ESG funds can be used for eviction prevention assistance, rapid rehousing, housing counseling, and rental deposit assistance; funds can support temporary emergency shelters, and also cover staff costs, training, and hazard pay.
An issue in all congregate shelters is the challenge of practicing social distancing to mitigate the effects of COVID-19. NNEDV states that many shelters have been asked to decrease their populations by 50% to decrease the risk of infection. Denying shelter to domestic violence survivors can upend their lives, so all shelters, including shelters for domestic violence victims and survivors, should be seeking ways to move survivors and their families into motel rooms and dorms.
More funds and guidance are needed to address domestic violence survivors’ housing needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. NLIHC will continue to advocate for increased funding for federal housing programs, including ones that serve domestic violence survivors. Meantime, there are steps shelter providers and groups serving domestic violence survivors can take with the resources already being provided. Organizations working with domestic violence survivors should visit NNEDV’s online resource library for more information on what they can do to serve their populations now.
If you are in an unsafe situation, contact the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224.
The Pandemic and Vulnerability to Parental Violence
Domestic violence survivors are not always adults. The perils that survivors might face also apply to children if they are in an abusive home. The pandemic will likely lead to further parental violence due to lack of options for youth to be outside of homes. For example, Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, TX, reported they typically see about six child-abuse fatalities each year, but already have three these past two months since shelter-in-place orders went into effect. Dr. Nina Agrawal, a child abuse pediatrician based out of Columbia University, writes in the New York Times that we as a nation may face an epidemic of child abuse in the coming months. Dr. Agrawal notes that children often report the abuse to their mothers, but the perpetrator remains in the house because he is the primary breadwinner. Dr. Agrawal links this unfortunate fact to housing insecurity and is concerned “that our current reality — the lack of opportunities to seek refuge outside the home combined with the difficulty of finding new living arrangements when money is tight — makes it even less likely that young victims will be able to escape their abusers.” This reality will leave even more youth choosing between an abusive home or fleeing into homelessness.