Homelessness & Domestic Violence & Helping Out

I work with people who are in a housing program to transition from homelessness to self-sufficiency. Some of these people were literal homeless, on the streets or in shelter, and some of these people were going to lose their home but received intervention services to stay in a house.

Questions I’ve heard.  Why would we help people be in a home when they cannot pay for a home? Isn’t that just a waste of taxpayer money? Why can’t they just get a job and pay for their own houses?

The issue of homelessness is an issue of one thing only, at its core: the lack of housing.  Think of the benefits a home provides.  A home can be defined as an apartment, condo, house or room in another house. A home is a place that is not severely overcrowded where a person or a family can live. Here are just some of the benefits of having stable housing.

  • Housing provides safety and security, a place to sleep and be without having to be constantly afraid
  • Housing provides a permanent address, helping you to get and maintain a job
  • Housing ensures your kids are going to one school during the year, not four or more schools, which in turn promotes better grades and future outcomes
  • Housing provides warmth, shelter from the elements
  • Housing provides a place to keep your body clean, improving hygiene
  • Housing improves health, reducing sleep deprivation, skin infections, cold-exposure injuries, tuberculosis, respiratory diseases, and physical and sexual assault
  • Housing provides stability and a place to grow from

The reality of housing is that it’s too expensive.  Over 12 million people in the United States are spending more than 50% of their income monthly to pay for their housing.  They have no savings, because when you’re paying that much for housing, there’s nothing left to save at the end of the month. If something happened to their jobs, they’d lose their homes.

The biggest reason that people are homeless is the chronic shortage of affordable and available rental housing, period.  It’s not that homeless people are lazy, stupid, poor planners, unwilling to work. In fact, 59% of homeless adults in families in Fairfax County are employed.

It’s not that they’re leeching off a system.  It’s that there are not enough affordable housing units.

It’s not that the homeless are morally wrong for not having money and a home.  It’s that there are not enough homes available that people can afford while making low wages.

The issues surrounding homelessness are extremely complex. Family homelessness seems to be declining – likely due to rapid rehousing programs and the increased attention on families.  Adults over 65 years old are the most rapidly rising population. As the population of baby boomers ages, the number of homeless adults from that age-group is skyrocketing. Homeless services are wraparound services, helping their clients with employment, with counseling, with mental health and physical health needs, with access to food and to affordable housing, with referrals for clothing. Because no two situations of homelessness are identical, the services need to be tailored to individual cases to make the best impact.

85% of families who go through a rapid rehousing program sustain permanent housing after their subsidy ends.  That’s a huge impact.

So this is the work I do – I am part of the continuum of care that helps ensure a good outcome for people experiencing homelessness.  I help people in this housing program to improve their job skills, write resumes, learn to interview, improve business communication, work on soft skills, learn to negotiate. I help them identify and prepare for jobs, and help them consider careers they may not have thought of before as a pathway out of poverty.

This work is not without its challenges – emotionally, it’s very draining work. The families and individuals I work with are in a constant state of crisis. Huge transition periods often result in a state of heightened anxiety, and it can be hard to separate my feelings and my needs from the families I’m serving, sometimes. And people who have been homeless for a long time are often at a phase in their lives where they feel invisible – they feel like they do not matter and that nothing is going to help.  They are tired.

Imagine you’re applying for a new job.  What do you want to get out of this job?

You may hope to learn a new skill, figure out new things, help people. Not have your work be meaningless. You may hope to earn a promotion someday.

Now imagine you have been unemployed for three years. You are disabled from an accident at work three years ago. You have two children and are a single parent. You watch your children go to bed hungry at least four nights a week. You are grateful that they receive lunch and breakfast at school. Summer’s approaching and you know your children are going to suffer through another summer.  Imagine you’re applying for a new job. What do you want to get out of this job?

You want your kids to have food for dinner. You want, as a luxury, to maybe buy them a birthday present. Neither has had a present since you lost your job. Maybe you want to buy medication for your mother, which she has been going without since she is over 65 and on social security, which leaves no room for extras like medication.

Play this game. http://playspent.org/ It’s a poverty simulation. It’s kind of rose-tinted, as it assumes you have $1000 to begin with, but it gives a good idea of what it’s like to have to make these decisions.

Approximately 63% of homeless women are survivors of domestic violence.  39% of cities cite domestic violence as the leading cause of family homelessness.

Frequently, women who become homeless as a result of domestic violence were not employed at the time of exiting their housing situation. If they were employed, they likely left their jobs without notice when they found emergency shelter, as their abusers knew where they worked.  Many may have no marketable skills at all. They have been living in isolation and fear. They need counseling, support, they need workforce development services, they need safety.  They need help to rebuild a life. Victims of domestic violence all told lose of 8 million days of employment in the United States annually. Their attendance records at previous jobs may be spotty. They may suffer from anxiety, depression, PTSD.  Consequently, when they go to find employment, they are at a marked disadvantage. Other applicants will have a more robust job history. Other applicants will have better attendance records. Other applicants may be already in permanent housing, or have stable childcare. Women who are survivors won’t necessarily have these resources built up yet.

Domestic violence and homelessness go hand in hand and create a vicious cycle.It takes time to break that cycle, time to shore up.  Emergency domestic violence programs, like Artemis House, help women rebuild their lives. As an employment specialist, I see domestic violence as one of the greatest challenges to overcome in workforce development.

There has to be a way to help make sure that survivors can thrive in the workforce safely, securely, and with prosperity in their futures. I don’t know that we’re there yet, but we are working on it. Security is the number one concern when women leave for emergency shelter. The locations of emergency shelters are undisclosed, and for good reason.

At Artemis House recently, there were  two situations where an abuser came to shelter to find his victim. I am doing a fundraiser in April, a Poem-A-Thon, to help Artemis House raise the funds to have 6 cameras installed at 5 locations from ADT, a security system that will help them provide safety and security for the women and families they are helping. This link explains more about this Poem-A-Thon.  Please consider sponsoring me, and helping me to raise money for Artemis House.  The cost of the security system they need is $3600.

Thank you.

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