'Extremely limited' housing options mean domestic abuse victims are 'hidden homeless'

'Extremely limited' housing options mean domestic abuse victims are 'hidden homeless'

Another woman moved from a guest house, which she left when she ran out of money, to homeless hostels and emergency B&Bs and then onto a refuge before getting back into private rented accommodation, where she has now received notice to quit. File photo: iStock/PA

People leaving an abusive household can experience "hidden homelessness", with many left to cope independently in the absence of adequate financial means to find a solution.

A new report for Focus Ireland also found that children who leave an abusive home can have unmet needs and that there were "numerous" barriers of access to domestic violence services, including capacity issues.

The research project, conducted by Dr Paula Mayock and Fiona Neary, began in April 2019 and includes findings from February of this year. It involved more than 120 participants, including 17 parents as well as local authority personnel and focus groups working in the domestic violence and homeless service sectors.

All but one of the 17 parents were women and most were white Irish. The accommodation journeys outlined in the report showed some common themes. "Families experienced high levels of residential instability, with parents reporting between two and 12 moves with their children post-leaving."

One 43-year-old woman spent more than two-and-a-half years moving between different accommodations, including going back to the abusive home, sleeping rough and a family hub. 

Another woman, 32, over a shorter period moved from a guest house which she left when she ran out of money, to homeless hostels and emergency B&Bs and then onto a refuge before getting back into private rented accommodation, where she has now received notice to quit.

According to the research: "These cases strongly suggest that parents' housing options post-leaving the abusive relationship were extremely limited and that women's ability to access safe and affordable housing was severely compromised.

"More than half of the study’s parents stayed with a family member or friend after they first left home. Thus, a large number entered into situations of hidden homelessness, meaning that their situations – and the fact that they had experienced domestic abuse – remained concealed for many weeks and, in some cases, for several months."

Dr Mayock, speaking at a webinar to launch the report, said the entire range of supports for one-parent families need to be reviewed as many of the people affected by domestic abuse are leaving a home in private rented accommodation, and then trying to re-enter the same market on more limited means and sometimes with children distressed by what has occurred.

Lisa Marmion, Services Development Manager at Safe Ireland, told the webinar that the data in the report was comprehensive and insightful and came at a "pivotal time".

"We know then that Covid has exposed this issue but unfortunately it has also exposed the infrastructural deficits," she said. 

However, she said the pandemic has also created opportunities for the gardaí, Tusla and the courts service in making the issue "much more elevated in the public consciousness".

Mike Allen, Focus Ireland Director of Advocacy, said a lack of coordination in the provision of homeless services meant there was a wasting of resources and this, along with the recommendations in the report, should be the focus of the cross-departmental housing action committee established by the Minister for Housing.

In their words - what victims and service providers said

“Anything that revolved around the HAP, I never heard from them again. That in itself was quite intimidating” [Ellen, age 36] 

“If the homeless and the domestic violence people got together, that would be a hell of a lot better for a lot of women because I’ve seen some horrific injuries on women and there’s no services out there … I think everybody should start coming together and sitting down and realise that there’s a serious situation” [Annett, age 43].

“They have trauma coming from refuge and it’s another trauma going into emergency accommodation” [DV Service Provider] 

“When women leave here (DV refuge) to go to emergency homeless services, she leaves here, she dips. She has been supported, now nothing … they have one room, they may have access to a kettle, no cooking ... noisy neighbours. If men with loud voices are there, this can be intimidating. No one to talk to, strangers outside her door, she doesn’t feel safe” [DV Service Provider].

“So now a family that came in through homelessness and now are showing signs of DV. Now we are going, ‘Oh, what do we do now? This is unexpected’” [Homelessness Service Provider]

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