Domestic and family violence has been established as a key driver of homelessness for women of all ages.
Although there is growing awareness of domestic and family violence, rates of abuse remain grossly high throughout society. As a result, women experiencing or at risk of experiencing violence are often forced to leave their home to seek safer accommodation.
These accounts are more or less universal, however, we know that some groups of women have unique risks and experiences. For this reason, we need tailored policy and service delivery responses that also consider the unique safety, wellbeing and recovery of someone who has experienced domestic or family violence. These responses need to be evidence-based, trauma-informed and person-centred.
Despite its prevalence, many women present to mainstream homelessness services that are unable to support their family violence issues or high-risk safety concerns. This often leads women to be bounced between two systems: homelessness and family violence, without getting an appropriate response from either.
Intersecting with women’s economic insecurity is their increased risk of experiencing violence:
- One in five women over the age of 15 has experienced sexual violence, and women are four times more likely to be the victims of violence than men – Our Watch.
- Of the total number of Victorian women who seek support (with and without children), more than one-third are fleeing family violence.
- At Juno, 71% of the women we work with told us that family violence was a factor that forced them into homelessness – a total of 192 women.
The ongoing threat to their safety forces many women (often with children) to make the incredibly difficult decision to leave their home and enter the homelessness system.
At Juno, we provide a holistic trauma informed response that also supports women and non-binary people in their recovery from the trauma associated with family violence.
Another factor that is often at play in family violence situations is financial abuse. Financial abuse – controlling spending, withholding or depriving a woman of finances – is an aspect of ‘coercive control’ and a form of family violence. Shockingly, conservative estimates suggest it occurs in half of all family violence situations.
We know that when women separate from a violent partner, they are often forced to leave the family home. With this can come with the costs of relocating, severed employment (if they’re forced to relocate), and, in some cases, recovery from trauma that prevents them from returning to work.
Time and time again, we see women who cannot afford private rental costs on an inadequate single income forced into poverty. This ongoing financial instability makes women highly vulnerable to future episodes of homelessness.
We know that women are much more likely to be primary caregivers and sole parents, are therefore much more likely to present to homelessness services with children in their care.
The threat of intervention from Child Protection for women experiencing homelessness also adds another layer and increases the invisibility of homeless women as they may couch service or stay with friends or family to avoid intervention.
Each year Juno sees over 270 women and over 300 children. Almost half of the women that present to us have children/ young people in their care (47%).
Support services need to consider this reality to ensure that the needs of the whole family are being met, including:
- Supporting the whole family to recover from the trauma associated with family violence;
- Minimising relocation away from existing community connections (childcare, schools);
- Promoting women’s reunification with her children in cases where custody has been lost as a result of the effects of homelessness and family violence;
- And avoiding mixed accommodation settings where the family may be exposed to unsafe behaviour.
Responses to homelessness must be equipped to promote the wellbeing of the whole family.