NEW YORK (WOMENSENEWS)–Not long ago Elischia Fludd, 31, was building a freelance journalism career. Although Fludd’s health was declining due a disability with her legs, she was also a caregiver to her mother who suffers from alcoholism.
But life with her mother was not going well. Last October, after enduring what she describes as persistent verbal abuse from her mother, who also tried to hit her, she called the police. “They didn’t take it seriously. They look at it as a spat between a mother and a daughter,” says Fludd.
She eventually obtained a court order of protection and had to leave her mother’s home. Now she lives in a homeless shelter in New York where she shares a room with 10 other women. She says none of her relatives knows where she is. She would like to go back to writing but she says she “cannot focus” in a shelter where moments of quiet are rare.
Fludd would like to go to the kinds of business networking events that often take place after work hours. But the rules of the homeless shelter mean she often can’t. “I have a sharp curfew that if violated will forfeit a bed to sleep in,” she says.
For the past year, Fludd has been taking online courses for a Master of Science degree in nonprofit management, but living in a shelter has also made that difficult. “It is hard to keep up because it is challenging to find a place without loud noises, staff sometimes yelling or talking harshly over the loud speaker to demand things of clients and/or clients getting into confrontations,” she says.
Since changing her address her mail has been slow to arrive, which could mean she is missing professional opportunities. She says staff members are unfriendly and unhelpful. “I cannot completely trust that I will always get my mail.”
In the past, Fludd had always refused public assistance. “I had too much pride,” she says. Fludd now relies on public assistance. “I had to in order to be in a shelter.”
Fludd, who has a disability with her legs that prevents her from walking at times, says the stress of her current situation makes her susceptible to illness. “I’ve been sick more times in five months than I’ve been in a whole calendar year and it slows down my workflow,” she says.
Depleted Emotional Resources
Worrying about housing can make it impossible for people to even think about employment and can damage the psychic and emotional resources necessary for getting and keeping a job, experts say. A 2007 study conducted in the United Kingdom showed that 53 percent of respondents said that being homeless destroyed their self-esteem and self-confidence. In the same research–which focused on resilience–a third of the people said that being homeless had led to depression, mental health problems and anxiety.
Domestic violence, meanwhile, is the third leading cause of homelessness among families, according to a fact sheet published by the advocacy group Safe Horizon, citing a government study.
For law enforcement, health care systems, businesses and communities, the national costs are routinely estimated in increments of billions of dollars, but more precise costs to the survivors post-homelessness have yet to be estimated.
Each year survivors and victims lose $727.8 million in wages, the equivalent of 32,114 full-time jobs annually, according to data on intimate partner violence from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released in 2003. These and other losses, compounded by the problems of being homeless, contribute to the gaps that leave women lagging far behind men in lifetime earnings.
Domestic violence is defined as emotionally and/or physically controlling an intimate partner, often involving tactics such as physical assault, stalking and sexual assault, according to domesticviolence.org. Approximately 1-in-4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime and 1.3 million women in the United States are victims of domestic violence each year.
Fludd’s troubles reflect a second-generational form of intimate-partner violence since her mother, who became abusive toward her, was herself abused by Fludd’s father. “She spent many decades trying to get justice for herself'” says Fludd.
Approximately half of all women and children who are homeless are fleeing domestic violence, says a fact sheet on domestic violence and homelessness by the Washington-based National Coalition for the Homeless.
Victims often are permitted to stay at emergency shelters for between 30 and 60 days, says Monica McLaughlin, the lead housing staffer at the National Network to End Domestic Violence, based in Washington, D.C. A shortage of affordable housing alternatives sometimes extends those stays, which only blocks other people from entering.
“So many women face very credible threats by their perpetrators to do harm to themselves, to the survivor…,” says McLaughlin. “So staying or returning to the abusive relationship is often a logical choice made in the circumstances of the survivor.”
Homelessness as a result of domestic violence afflicts women in all social strata. But battered women who live in poverty, or don’t have their own incomes, have fewer options, which leaves them either staying with an abuser or taking longer to leave.
“If you have been at home and were not working, you think if I leave this abusive relationship how I am going to feed my kids?” says Hannah Pennington, executive director of the NYC Family Justice Center in Manhattan, which opened last month.
Abusers often isolate their victims from support networks and financial resources, which raises the risk of becoming homeless. Abusers use “power control tactics,” says Pennington.
Statistics show that it usually takes victims six or seven efforts at escape before they finally leave an abusive relationship, adds Pennington.
“It was a mental battle with myself to keep from going back,” says Melissa Skelton, a community developer in Radford, Va., who escaped domestic violence after a 10-year ordeal. She spoke with Women’s eNews in a phone interview.
Thirteen years ago, Skelton decided to make the break and leave home with her two children aged 5 and 8. “I had no place to go. I had no money, I had no vehicle. All my family was in Massachusetts,” she says. “When you have no resources, you don’t feel like you can get out. They convince you that they are gonna have everything, that you are not gonna have your kids,” Skelton says, referring to abusers.
Skelton was still in college at the time, in the prime age bracket for domestic violence.
Young Women Vulnerable
Studies find that young women ages 16 to 24 are the most vulnerable to domestic violence, at a rate almost triple the national average. While the overall per capita rate of intimate partner violence against women was about 6 victimizations per 1,000 in 1999, among females ages 16 to 24 the figure was close to 16, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Research over the past two decades also indicates that 30 percent of the homeless families in the United States include women who are: mothers, under the age of 35, members of a minority group, have often not completed high school, have usually experienced more than one episode of homelessness in their lifetime and are single parents of two or three children.
Skelton decided to go back to school to build a career while working two part-time jobs to pay for her tuition. She had one year of study left when she escaped her husband’s violence. “I lived in a shelter for four months and in transitional housings for a year and half. There were many times when I just wanted to give up,” she says.
After she left home it was still hard to feel safe. She says her ex-husband broke the order of protection several times.
“I worked waitressing. I had done some factory work just to pay the bills but it was not a career,” she says, adding that having a college education eventually helped her move forward.
Skelton says her financial recovery was limited by her decision to remain in the town where her sons were born and raised. “I chose to stay in that area because of the familiarity of my kids,” she says. But “it is somewhat rural,” she says, which restricted her employment options.
Skelton, who spoke at a Congressional briefing organized by the National Network to End Domestic Violence on Capitol Hill in March, graduated in 2002 but it took her six years to find a “decent job,” her current position.
Skelton says it took longer than expected to build a career and create a semblance of financial stability. “It has to do with safety first, she says.