As domestic violence forces women, children into homelessness, shelters work to help

Published: Friday, Jan. 25 2013 10:50 p.m. MST

Greene now manages the Ina Mae Greene Foundation, a nonprofit organization in memory of her lost relatives, based in Dallas. She is also releasing a book, "Blood Relatives," that chronicles her and her family's experience with domestic violence.

Her foundation members work with women in the community to raise awareness about relationship violence and help them avoid a common peril of domestic abuse: homelessness.

"We want to make women aware of what their options are," she said. "Many women may not have anywhere to go."

Economic abuse

Often times an angry or abusive ex-partner will attempt to take back control of the relationship through financial manipulation and sabotage. This can include destroying credit or sabotaging future job prospects for the women, as well as emptying a joint bank account of all assets, said Rene Renick, vice president of programs and emerging issues at the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

Because of this, she stressed the importance of maintaining financial independence or having a general plan when exiting an abusive relationship.

"Physical safety is really important but so is financial safety," she said. "Protect yourself by knowing where your assets are before it gets to the point that you need a court order."

Menard referred to this as economic abuse and said ruined credit or damaged property by an abusive partner often leads to housing instability for women who are not financially independent.

Opening a separate and personal savings account or even saving change received at the grocery store can be a safe way to save money that does not alert the partner and allows for some financial stability in the event of separation, Renick suggested.

"Too many women leave a relationship and then a couple days later find that their bank account has been drained," she said. "Save anything you can and put it aside in a way that's safe."

Abusers even go as far as to call landlords to prevent their partner from being accepted in a new living situation, Berg said.

"It usually is a very domineering kind of situation," he said. "The man wants to take away any chance the women has of living independently. That makes it really hard to maintain housing stability."

Domestic violence shelters

Domestic violence shelters differ from homeless shelters in that they generally have more specific resources for victims of domestic violence. Their main role is to provide an immediate safe place for women who are fleeing from domestic violence, Berg said.

Domestic violence shelters also provide counseling and resources that can help prevent violence from occurring again.

"We have services that didn't exist in the last 30 years," Menard said. "There has been greater collaboration between homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters, and that is an amazingly important response."

Experts cite the economic downturn as a problem for domestic violence shelters. Renick said funding needs to be a priority because programs have been affected by reductions in state budgets. Domestic violence shelters are also seeing fewer donations lately, but more demand for their services, she said.

Overcrowding, especially in smaller cities, also becomes a major issue. If a woman's life is not in immediate danger, she will likely be put on a waiting list for domestic violence shelter services, Greene said.

When women are turned away from or cannot access domestic violence shelters, they often end up homeless, Menard said.

"When these services don't exist or aren't accessible, it makes it more difficult for someone dealing with homelessness," she said. "Some programs are forced to turn victims away, and these women end up under bridges and on the streets."

Deciding to leave an abusive relationship is a very important and personal decision, Renick said. She encourages women to critically identify their long-term situation before making a decision.

"Victims really are the best experts on their own lives," she said. "But you need to know what's out there and what resources are available."

If a person becomes a victim of domestic violence, Renick suggested they first call the domestic violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233. This will provide general information about domestic violence and about local help and resources. Berg echoed her advice.

"The No. 1 thing is to be in touch with a domestic violence hotline," Berg said. "Every situation is different, but you need to get some help, and the help really is available."

There also needs be a shift culturally in the way domestic violence is approached and viewed, Greene said.

"We have to re-educate our community about this crime," she said. "It's not a personal family problem. It's not a love triangle or a fit or rage. It's against the law."

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