Domestic Violence a Problem in Homeless Shelters

We have discussed before the way the threat of homelessness can compel victims of domestic violence to remain in abusive relationships, and how domestic violence can often result in homelessness for the victim.  According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, over 60% of homeless women have been victims of domestic violence.  But for many, abuse continues after becoming homeless as well.  Recent studies conducted in New York City have found that domestic abuse in homeless shelters has become a troublingly common problem.

According to a study of New York City shelters, over 60% of violent incidents within the shelters are domestic abuse, and that number is closer to 80% among homeless families without children.   In all, an estimated 900 critical instances of violence in New York City homeless shelters occurred in 2015, a significant rise from previous reports.  It seems likely that other cities may have similar problems.

Although security tight is required in buildings being used as homeless shelters, it seems this has not been enough to prevent many domestic violence cases, even those using weapons. In one recent case, for example, in a hotel that was serving as a homeless shelter, the assailant was able to acquire three machetes with which to threaten his girlfriend and her two children.

Cases like these have inspired concern that homeless shelters are not providing a safe environment for those in domestic violence situations, and some suspect that the problem begins or worsens when a family is placed in the homeless shelter.  This is not altogether unlikely because, as we discuss in our Intimate Partner Violence and Violence Against Women resources, domestic abuse can often begin or worsen in times of extreme stress.

In response to these findings, New York officials plan to train homeless shelter staff to better handle domestic violence situations.  Past solutions have included having social workers on staff in homeless shelters, but that program has recently been cut.

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