By: Joan LeMole, NHM Development Director and Melissa Arndt, Communications Consultant
Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and their children in the United States. Between 22 and 57% of all homeless women report that domestic violence was the immediate cause of their homelessness. Additionally, 38% of all victims of domestic violence become homeless at some point in their lives. The lack of safe housing can have severe consequences for survivors. Without a safe place to stay, survivors may be at increased risk of physical, emotional and psychological trauma. For those who live with an abusive partner, the prospect of leaving can feel overwhelming.
Access to safe and affordable shelter or housing is reported as one of the biggest barriers to leaving an abuser. Nearly 50% of homeless women reported that they remained with or returned to an abuser because they had no affordable housing options. This lack of options can be caused by economic instability due to long-term financial abuse; discrimination based on the abuser’s violent or criminal actions; or emotional and physical challenges. Survivor access to housing is further complicated by unique safety and confidentiality needs and by the very real affordable housing crisis that affects many areas, including Midcoast Maine.
Economic abuse committed by partners during a relationship has been shown to be a significant obstacle to separation. A 2019 study by the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence (MCEDV) found that 81% of respondents reported economic abuse that included abusers accessing credit and incurring debt using their partner’s identity. This created economic instability for survivors, making them more vulnerable to continued violence and isolation.
Discrimination based on the violent or criminal actions of an abuser can also present significant barriers to finding safe shelter. According to the National Housing Law Project, this discrimination jeopardizes housing security for survivors and their families who are leaving their abusers. Victims of abuse are sometimes even evicted because of the domestic violence crimes committed against them. A national study conducted in 2008 found that 65% of the applicants looking for housing on behalf of a domestic violence survivor were either refused housing entirely or were offered more unfavorable terms and conditions than a non-victim.
New Hope Midcoast, the domestic violence resource center supporting communities in Sagadahoc, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties, offers a range of housing options created to support survivors seeking to leave their abusers. Options include emergency sheltering as well as long-term transitional housing. In addition to finding a safe place to stay, advocates also help survivors access services such as medical and mental health care, support groups and legal advocacy. Resources that improve credit, provide career training and enhance economic literacy are all available.
Survivors who participate in New Hope’s Transitional Housing program are able to find consistency during difficult times which helps to reduce stress. While in the program, clients receive rental assistance and work with advocates to secure permanent housing. Many survivors feel safest where they can remain close to their family, friends and communities. Depending on availability, clients who are employed may remain near their work and children may stay in the same school system.
Safe housing is more than a residence. Its intrinsically entwined with fundamental human needs like identity, dignity, empowerment, confidence and independence. A 2021 study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found a significant reduction in post-traumatic stress disorder and depression for victims of domestic abuse who resided in stable housing. Child survivors experienced fewer school absences, emotional difficulties and problems with peer interactions. Stable housing allows victims to begin healing from the trauma they have experienced. They are able to develop and pursue career and employment opportunities and begin a life based on self-determination.
It is important for communities to work together to provide support and resources for survivors so they can experience safety in their own homes. New Hope Midcoast offers a full spectrum of options that allow staff to assist clients throughout their journey toward safety and self-sufficiency, but the organization can’t do this work alone. There is a dire need for affordable rentals in the Midcoast area and New Hope has a long list of families waiting for an opportunity to begin their journey. If you are a local landlord who would like to learn more about collaborating with New Hope to support individuals or families in need, please email .
More information regarding the programs highlighted in this article, as well as other New Hope Midcoast resources, is available at newhopemidcoast.org. The organization’s 24/7 Helpline is 1-800-522-3304.