By Mrinal Gokhale
Domestic violence affects people from all walks of life. But people in poverty may face extra barriers to escaping these dangerous situations. According to the U.S. Conference for Mayors 2012 Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness, 28 percent of cities noted that domestic violence was the number one reason families with children become homeless.
In some cities, calling 911 after experiencing domestic violence is considered a “nuisance” that the landlord can be held responsible for. This has lead to evictions of the victims. In Milwaukee, this was the case a few years ago.
Matthew Desmond, a sociologist at Harvard University published his book Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City in March 2016. It detailed the heartbreaking stories of families that have been evicted in Milwaukee’s poorest zip codes.
“Milwaukee faced 40 evictions per day from 2003 to 2007, and it’s not too different from some other big cities,” he said.
Furthermore, he added that the nuisance property ordinance allows police officers to punish landlords when more than three 911 calls were made within 30 days on a property.
“From 2008 to 2009, domestic violence was listed as the third most common nuisance for landlords to receive a citation. Most nuisance citations were given to Milwaukee’s north side properties,” Desmond said.
The state law and city ordinance were changed in 2011 so that domestic abuse, sexual assault and stalking related calls cannot present a basis for a citation. But a problem still remains.
Dr. Isaiah Pickens, a licensed clinical psychologist and founder of iOpening Enterprises, is a contributor for MSNBC.
His specialty is providing trauma informed care to children, and he said frequent housing transitions have a profound impact on mothers and children.
“Researchers found the rate of mental illness among the homeless is twice the general population, with approximately 47 percent of homeless women meeting criteria for major depressive disorder,” Pickens said.
He said without stable housing, a person has difficulty meeting their basic needs, increasing chronic stress, health problems and negatively impacting decision making skills. He said that women of color may be less likely to report an abusive partner to law enforcement.
“The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence highlights that women of color disproportionately face high levels of poverty, limited job and educational resources, and fear of deportation,” Pickens said.
He also cited cultural beliefs as an additional barrier, adding that nearly 29 percent of African American women have experienced intimate partner violence in their lifetime.
“Other beliefs may play a role in black women tolerating domestic violence including a distrust in institutional support to address domestic violence, fear of disrupting the family’s life with child protective services or not having support from father, or worries that reporting will cause rejection from their church or other community connections,” Pickens said.
“Finally, implicit biases in institutions may hinge on beliefs that black women are strong enough care for themselves or that they caused the situation. Victim blaming is an obstacle to gaining the support necessary to gain stability.”
Dr. Pickens said some battered women feel obtaining stable housing is impossible, especially when living in poverty. He said that rent costs are one reason, and mothers may not feel they can pay the rent by themselves.
“Abuse often is inter-generational. Victims who witnessed domestic abuse as children have a hard time believing they have other options.”
Dr. Pickens says taking a non-judgmental approach is important when domestic violence is seen or suspected, because often victims feel ashamed and don’t seek help right away. “If the person is not in imminent danger, show empathy and suggest resources rather than trying to fix or point out reasons it doesn’t make sense to be in the relationship. Our interventions can make the situation more volatile.”
“When someone is very guarded, providing emotional support and specific resources such as thehotline.org to empower women to start the process safely,” Pickens said. The last part is helping victims develop skills to function independently.
“Maybe it’s taking a class or connecting with other resources in their life. This will support increased self-worth and potentially lay the groundwork for transitioning out of the relationship.”