Fleeing domestic abuse often leads to homelessness

Abuse victims shouldn’t have to flee, says charity

Scottish Women’s Aid guidance aims to prevent homelessness when victims leave an abusive relationship.
03 October 2019 , Katie Coyne

Women and children should not be made to leave their homes and become homeless following domestic abuse, says a charity that has developed guidance for housing providers to stop this.

An ingrained expectation that women and their children should leave their family homes to flee their abuser needs to be turned on its head, said Scottish Women’s Aid. Often women are told their only housing option when separating from an abuser is to make a homelessness application.

Scottish Women’s Aid said the experience of becoming homeless and using housing services following domestic abuse is often re-traumatising and comes at a huge emotional and financial cost, and housing providers have a legal duty to do better.

Jo Ozga, policy officer at Scottish Women’s Aid said: “Domestic abuse is the main reason why women make homelessness applications, yet there is little work being done to change that. How do you begin to change that narrative where the expectation is that if a woman goes to homelessness services, that she and her children will be expected to move?”

Domestic abuse: a good practice guide for social landlords provides best practice templates, examples and case studies, and checklists in how best to respond to domestic abuse. It sits alongside first-hand accounts of women who have been made homeless due to domestic abuse and the challenges they faced from housing services providers.

The guidance document has been developed following earlier research into women’s experiences of homelessness as a result of domestic or sexual abuse. Women often have to move multiple times, out of their support networks, which also affects their children who may also have to change schools and lose touch with friends and support just when they need it most.

Ozga explained that social housing providers and authorities have a duty to act under the Human Rights Act and Equalities Act, and the guidance is aimed at them. However, landlords within the private rental sector could also use it and it could be adapted for the rest of the UK.

While domestic abuse is the main cause of homelessness for women, it is under-reported as many women don’t disclose this information to housing services. Women’s homelessness is not always as visible – women try to avoid rough sleeping, staying with friends and relatives, and if they do sleep on the street they try and stay out of sight.

Ozga added: “A lot of the housing first response in Scotland is based on responding to male models of homelessness where that supports men out of homelessness, which is great but there’s no focus on women’s homelessness and domestic abuse is the main reason for this homelessness.”

What women said

“Having to repeat my circumstances over and over again was humiliating and distressing to me. I was also worried about a negative reaction of not being believed every time I had to explain to a new person.”

“My life changed in a minute. I had to leave my family home and my children. I’m locked away from them and from my friends while I’m in the refuge. I feel I have lost everything.”

“I was not taken seriously, not listened to, not believed and judged by all those who make decisions about my life now and in the future.”

“Looking after myself is something I took for granted. How do you do that when you are a homeless woman? How do you take care when you are moving from friend to friend? Where do you go when you don’t have an address?”

Taken from Scottish Women’s Aid literature and the charity’s photo and support project Recounting Women.

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