Health & Science

Housing instability a top concern for survivors of domestic violence, a new report says

According to a report from the Texas Council on Family Violence, six or more survivors are turned away from shelters at 47% of transitional housing programs.

(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)
In this Aug. 18, 2010, file photo, a victim of domestic violence, who calls herself, “Sierra” sits at a safe house in Nevada County, Calif.

Survivors of domestic violence in Texas are facing potential homelessness and housing instability as emergency shelters with dwindling beds turn them away.

According to a report from the Texas Council on Family Violence, six or more survivors are turned away from shelters at 47% of transitional housing programs. Sonia Corrales, the deputy chief executive officer of the Houston Area Women’s Center, said five out of ten survivors fleeing domestic violence are turned away at the center’s emergency shelter.

“There is not enough emergency beds for people fleeing domestic violence situations,” Corrales said. “It’s true for us in Houston. It’s true for the state, and it’s true for the nation.”

The Houston Area Women’s Center saw an increase in hotline calls and people looking for assistance fleeing abusive partners since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020 — a trend that’s also being seen nationwide, according to a report from the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

The report found that 23,056 people listed COVID-19 as a condition that led to them calling the hotline for help. Katie Ray-Jones, the CEO of the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said lockdowns played a role in increased violence.

"When COVID-19 first came into our lives, we knew survivors were in closer proximity to their partner who chose to abuse and likely unable to reach out for support safely,” Ray-Jones said.

Housing instability was an issue for survivors of domestic violence long before the pandemic, but the rate of shelters turning away survivors recently improved after state lawmakers provided $63.5 million in funding for family violence core services during this year’s legislative session, said Krista Del Gallo, the interim legislative director at the Texas Council on Family Violence.

“This is not a new problem in terms of capacity,” Del Gallo said. “We’re actually in a better place in our state in terms of domestic violence shelter capacity than we were several years back.”

Del Gallo added that solving the housing crisis that has worsened due to the pandemic is a key step in preventing domestic violence.

“We need to sort of see it both ways,” Del Gallo said. “Housing is so important to safety and risk mitigation for survivors who have already been victimized, and addressing the housing crisis that already existed in many cities in Texas that the pandemic has certainly augmented is going to be a key step towards preventing future family violence in our state.”

According to the Texas Council on Family Violence report, the majority of mothers with children experiencing homelessness are survivors of domestic violence. Sonia Corrales said domestic violence is the number one cause of homelessness for women and children.

Financial abuse — a form of abuse Corrales said she sees regularly — can make it hard for survivors of domestic violence to find a place to stay if they don’t have access to an emergency shelter. The National Domestic Violence Hotline reported that 35% of their COVID-19 callers experienced financial abuse.

Abusers who exert control over a survivor’s finances can negatively impact the survivor’s credit score, making it challenging for survivors to find housing when they’re fleeing their abuser. Corrales said the Houston Area Women’s Center has funds available to help survivors find housing despite a low credit score.

Corrales said the center also helps survivors fleeing domestic violence through safety planning — focusing on their long-term safety, not just immediate emergency situations.

“When survivors of domestic violence have stable access to resources, that helps them build this economic resiliency, and them and their families are more likely to stay safe and secure,” she said.

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