Sunday, August 17, 2008
Domestic Violence (and more nonsensical ramblings about homelessness)
Thinking about ways people become homeless reminds me of a situation I dealt with recently involving domestic violence. Occasionally the police bring someone to our shelter who has had a bit to drink and so can't go to the other shelters, but is not drunk enough to need the drunk tank (and on a Friday night, it's important that we don't have those who don't need it!) In this situation, they gave us a woman who had been kicked out by her partner and then by her sister and had nowhere to go. I felt bad for her, because she was absolutely petrified; our shelter is not the most welcoming place when you come in late at night after a traumatic experience. Because of the challenges of working with intoxicated people, I told her to try and sleep and we'd look at things in the morning. She was able to get into a woman's shelter, and hopefully they'll be able to help her find a new place to live or she'll be able to draw on some of her other supports.
My point, is that this is another way that people become homeless. Because most places have women's shelters we don't always think about the fact that women getting kicked out by men wind up homeless. However, there are a variety of circumstances in which people get kicked out, and there are criteria for getting into a shelter. In the case above, the woman's partner was never physically violent with her. It's hard getting people to believe you're abused when you don't have the bruises to prove it.
It's hard for me to imagine what it must be like to get kicked out of your home one evening, but it does happen. And not just to abused women, but to husbands, sons, daughters etc... Some of it's tough love type stuff. Some of it is protection (ie, woman protecting kids from husband's drinking, couple kicking a parent out after drug use escalates), and some of it's relational (the woman who stays at the shelter everytime her friend has her boyfriend over), and some of it's just because (you're 23, get out of the basement, be gone by Monday).
The people in these situations are not yet chronically homeless. They haven't become the people you see sleeping on the bus benches downtown. But they exist, and they struggle. They can be the invisible face of homelessness. The staff member who starts to look a little tired and grungy because they're sleeping in their car, the fellow student who comes to school at 7AM regardless of what time their first class is, the cat napper in the library. Homelessness doesn't always happen because of poor decisions, addiction, the foster care system, the residential school legacy, sometimes homelessness just happens. It's how we deal with it that makes the difference.