One of the things that has kept us really busy are some very complex domestic violence related situations. It’s not that the victims are any more ‘in need’ than before or that the events themselves are higher risk or more extreme, it is the challenges around safely leaving that have more than once created so many difficulties.
Do you know what it is like to be faced with the decision to be homeless or return to your abusive spouse? Unfortunately, many women do and the main reason is due to financial barriers and limitations.
There are in most (every?) community some form of social assistance. There are homelessness prevention programs, social housing (with a three-year wait list even if you are considered a priority) and various off-shoots of social assistance that are meant to help those the most in need. You know, our “deserving” poor. As you can imagine, there are also a million rules around who qualifies and who can get what because the ‘pot of money’ is limited and we wouldn’t want any of that ‘undeserving poor’ to take advantage.
It is these very rules that create the barriers many abused folks face.
For instance; Jane Doe tries to leave John Doe. Violent relationship, very unsafe. The apartment is in his name and she doesn’t trust police enough to tell them her story. Not surprising and not ideal but it is what it is. Sometimes (many times) folks need to be in a safe environment before they can take that leap. Unfortunately, he has spent all of the money for the month already and even though she works at a minimum wage job, she literally has nothing right now other than three bags of clothing (joint bank account that he cleaned out already). Also unfortunately, because she works and makes a whopping $800 – $1000 a month, she does not qualify for homelessness prevention or social assistance.
So we send a letter; the police send a letter, we call; eventually we are advised that her ex-partner has already maxed out all the resources for social assistance within the past year so she doesn’t qualify for more – even though she is now trying to leave the relationship and it is documented by the police that this is high risk and he is violent and abusive.
So we ask about emergency housing options which for many rural communities don’t exist at all. We’re lucky because we have two apartments that are used for emergency temporary housing – they’re full.
So we ask about social housing. Well, her ex owes them money and because she was with him at the time, she has to pay back the amount owed in full (about $1000) before they are willing to put her on the list.
So we ask about a repayment plan since she is working. They say sure, but they won’t put her on the list until the amount is paid in full.
So we ask about the women’s shelter. It is full right now but maybe we can patch something together until it opens up because you know, she needs to keep her job. Unfortunately for Jane, she has gone to the shelter in the past when she’s tried to leave but she has panic attacks until she can’t take it anymore and returns to her partner. You see, she has been living on her own since she was 11 years old due to a violent home environment. Probably should have had some child protection assistance but that was many years ago and not even close to any kind of option. Sometimes people come from environments where shelters can re-trigger past traumatic memories and experiences. Sometimes shelters (while the very best place for someone to go when leaving an abusive relationship) are just not an option due to these challenges. I guess that puts her in the “too bad” category of needing help.
Let’s not forget the issues around child protection and how you must have multiple bedrooms if you want to keep your kids if you try to get help and the higher rent costs associated with that.
We’ve met too many Jane Doe’s lately. Too many people who have nothing, literally, and don’t qualify due to the financial actions of their abusive partners. So even though we all know that financial abuse is a common element of abusive relationships and that abusers ensure their partners are penniless, rules around assistance will not take that into consideration.
If we really want to make strides in assisting women in their ability to leave abusive relationships, we need to find a way to ensure they have the opportunity to do so that doesn’t involve a choice between continued abuse or homelessness (and losing your kids).