Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness across the country and here in Vermont. Homelessness and hunger go hand in hand, leaving many to make the tough choice between housing and food.
Between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, Vermont’s publicly-funded emergency shelters, domestic violence shelters, and youth shelters, reported there were 4,208 persons sheltered for a total of 173,840 bed nights, 3,269 were adults and 890 were children under the age of 18, and the average length of stay was approximately 39 days (Vermont Office of Economic Opportunity, Housing Opportunity Grant Programs, SFY 2016 Final Report).
Last year, Steps to End Domestic Violence provided emergency shelter to 236 adults and 98 children for a total of 17,110 bed nights.
Many who suffer from domestic violence don't leave because they do not have a place to go, shelters are full, or the fear of the unknown is debilitating.
Our 18 bed emergency shelter is typically always full. We are often trying to find alternative emergency housing for those needing safety. Due to the need for immediate, safe and confidential housing, we must limit the length of stay at our shelter. According to the National Network To End Domestic Violence, “For many survivors, the common length of stay in an emergency shelter is 30 to 60 days; however, it can take 6 to 10 months or more for a family to secure stable, permanent housing due to the shortage of affordable housing options” (Domestic Violence Counts 2015). We understand this all too well in Chittenden County, Vermont where the vacancy rate for rental units hovers around 2%.
Hunger compounds the burden for those we serve. New residents of our shelter are in immediate crisis and nutrition benefits may not have yet been applied for or approved. Last year, we spent $4,500 on food for our shelter residents, who are encouraged to create their own meals from ingredients we provide. We also receive meal donations from the community. We provide snacks for the children served in our playgroups. For those who are not living at our shelter, we provide donated toiletries, grocery gift cards and bus passes.
How does one cover housing and food costs with minimal financial resources?
It is a precarious balance. Adequate nourishment provides a sense of safety. A sense of safety that is especially important for those who are fleeing domestic violence. Many fleeing their homes also face one or more of these additional struggles: loss of income, loss of or limited healthcare, transportation struggles, childcare, and more.
A common question is, “Why don’t they just leave?” Imagine not only being homeless, but also not knowing where your next meal will come from.
Leaving an abusive partner stops the immediate harm, but without support, leaving and finding economic security can and does force many to return or stay.