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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Sometimes it is hard to see domestic violence. Sometimes when we see it, we look the other way. That is why October is such an important month. It’s the month when we focus on what domestic violence looks like in all its many forms – verbal, emotional, spiritual, and physical – and the damage it does to all who experience it.

It is also a great time to look at the connection between domestic violence and homelessness, and research has shown that there is a direct link. Domestic violence – especially physical and sexual violence – is one of the top causes of homelessness and housing instability among women. A significant percentage of women and children on the street today are there because they have fled a violent situation that has made their homes life-threatening places to be. It’s a sad fact.

Even sadder is the fact that women on the street are as likely to experience a violent physical or sexual attack as they are in the homes they fled. They are vulnerable for different reasons. Many of them have come from situations in which their partner controlled their access to economic and psychological resources, their interaction with others, and their ability to develop job skills that could allow them to be self-supporting. They end up on the street, literally, with the clothing on their backs and nothing else and few ways to move toward healing, strength, and self-sustainability.

Their experience on the street can be as brutal as the home they were escaping. A recent study of 150 homeless women, conducted by Dr. Emily Spence-Almaguer and students at the University of North Texas Health Science Center, found that over 58% had had objects thrown at them more than once, 60% had been threatened or forced to have unwanted sex, and over 66% had been threatened with a weapon. As one woman interviewed said about some of the men she had encountered on the street, “They do it all the time. That’s how they deal with their stress. They fight, they cut, they punch you in the face. That’s just what they do.” Unfortunately, homeless women are most often their victims.

The City of Fort Worth’s Directions Home program works to reach out to women experiencing violence on the street. While the goal of Directions Home is to provide housing and supportive services that can help all people who are homeless move toward self-sustainability, the program especially seeks to find safe housing for women who have been battered before and during the time they have been homeless. Safe space and wrap-around services that can help women move off the street and toward healing, strength, and self-sustainability is what Directions Home is all about. I’m glad to be part of a city that keeps reaching out through Directions Home.

Melinda Veatch

Director,

Tarrant Churches Together

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