On most days at the intersection of Virgil Avenue and Silver Lake Boulevard in Los Angeles, a woman with a cardboard sign and a petite Chihuahua weaves between cars stopped at a red light. She is ignored by most, but occasionally receives the loose change of a good-natured driver. Though she can be seen throughout the week, the writing on her cardboard sign remains the same: “Left domestic violence- please help”.
The relationship between domestic violence and homelessness is not simply anecdotal. Amongst homeless women, domestic violence is one of the largest factors contributing to housing insecurity. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, more than 80% of homeless women and children have been victims of domestic violence at one point.
Poverty and domestic violence
While intertwined, different factors impact the likelihood of both domestic violence and homelessness. According to the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, women from low-income backgrounds are twice as likely to experience domestic violence. Likewise, they are more likely to experience prolonged and severe violence.
When one has the financial resources to leave an abusive partner, they are more likely to see the warning signs. This increases the likelihood that they leave before further harm can be done. However, for women with limited financial means, leaving an abuser is almost certain to result in homelessness. It should also be noted that patterns of domestic abuse include control over finances and isolation from one’s family and friends. Both of these can lead to abuse survivors lacking resources, support, and housing.
Marginalized communities and homelessness
Socioeconomic status is not the only factor impacting who becomes homeless. According to the Downtown Women’s Center, homelessness amongst women in Los Angeles has increased by 16% since 2019, with Black communities being disproportionately impacted. While only 7.9% of the county population is comprised of Black people, they make up 33.7% of the homeless community. Poverty, caused by systemic racism, as well as insufficient resources for victims and survivors of domestic abuse in low-income areas, certainly contribute to these numbers.
Gender identity and sexuality, too, are factors in homelessness. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 1 in 5 trans people experience homelessness in their lifetime. LGBTQ people often experience violence when faced with housing insecurity. Also, according to a Chapin Hall study, 62% of homeless LGBTQ youths have experienced physical harm by others.
Homelessness is multifaceted; no two people are homeless for exactly the same reason. However, it can be drawn from statistical evidence that those marginalized by society are at greater risk for homelessness and domestic violence, and this risk increases with multiple intersections of marginalized identities.
Too often, when faced with the human reality of the housing crisis, we choose ignorance. We roll our windows up while stopped at that red light, our eyes avoiding the cardboard sign. Society teaches us to avoid the homeless and to ignore them. However, when we see those without homes as individuals, rather than a “type” of person, we can begin to understand their stories and address the structural flaws that can lead to destitution.
What can we do?
Homelessness is a complex issue. Oftentimes, it can appear that as individuals, there is little we can do to remedy such a large, systemic problem. However, to choose the path of apathy and defeat is to ignore the power of small steps that can lead to a large change.
In order to truly address the issue of housing insecurity, it is imperative that we use our votes as our voice. We need to tell our elected officials that we will no longer tolerate the indifference shown towards homelessness. We must call on them to fund housing initiatives, block gentrification, fund women’s shelters, and prioritize equality on all fronts.
On a personal level, we must change our attitudes towards those living on streets and in shelters. Consciously unlearning our biases toward those experiencing homelessness is key, as is making a concerted effort to understand the factors that can leave people without homes, like domestic violence and societal marginalization.
But at the very least, don’t roll up the car window.