Sometimes the reasons for homelessness and poverty are obvious: a lost job, a bankruptcy, a foreclosure, a death in the family. But more often than we’d like to admit, the cause is violence in the family. Domestic violence, child abuse and sexual assault can force women and children (primarily, but not exclusively) out of a home and into a precarious, uncertain future. The majority of homeless youth fled physical and sexual abuse at home. Over 90% of homeless women have experienced severe physical abuse in their lives; 63% have been victims of intimate partner abuse as an adult.
Families now make up a THIRD of the homeless population; a typical homeless family in a shelter is a woman with two children. Throughout our history, FaithTrust Institute has sought to address the complex dynamics of domestic and sexual violence, particularly the faith and cultural aspects of abuse. The psychological impacts of witnessing and experiencing violence have lifelong effects. The isolation of domestic violence leaves many women without a stable, independent source of income or credit history. It can also destroy social networks and support systems. Without the means to rent an apartment and no close relationships, a woman and her children who are fleeing – sometimes for their lives – have nowhere to go.
Women of faith experience domestic violence within the context of their belief system; religion and religious teachings will be either a resource or a roadblock. Especially at a time of crisis, a woman needs to know that her faith community values her wellbeing. I believe that we as helpers should never put a woman in the position of having to choose between safety and the support of her faith community. She needs both. And it’s up to us to provide that.
For 35 years, FaithTrust Institute has worked with faith communities of all kinds to address the violence that’s all around us, but often hidden, sometimes ignored. It’s possible for all of us to imagine the physical and psychological pain of the victims, but the impact isn’t felt solely by the individuals involved. The trauma and betrayal pervades our culture. Violence in families is an underlying cause for much of the suffering that many of us work to combat. Poverty, food insecurity, homelessness, addiction, and impoverished health are all issues rooted in violence in families, and more broadly, in a culture of violence.
Many faith communities dedicate themselves to ending poverty and homelessness as their spiritual mission. In order to end homelessness, we must understand the interconnections that foster injustice. Acknowledging the impact that violence has on victims and survivors isn’t enough. We need to understand that by confronting the issues of domestic and sexual violence, we will impact injustice at every level. A more holistic view of justice will lead to the more holistic, and effective, responses that our communities need.
To that end, Faith Trust Institute is offering a free webinar “Domestic Violence & Homelessness: What’s the Connection?” on August 13, 2014 from 11am-12pm. Sponsored by InFaith Community Foundation, this presentation features Linda Olsen of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV). For more information, visit http://www.faithtrustinstitute.org/training/upcoming-webinars.
In addition, we are offering “Safe& Healthy Congregations Training: Ending Family Violence,” a two-day training for Christian churches on October 17-18, 2014 at the Seattle Airport Marriott (near SeaTac). This training, sponsored by InFaith Community Foundation, invites a team of four congregational leaders to learn about the dynamics of family violence and then develop actionable strategies to support victims and their families, prevent future harm, and hold abusers accountable. The application deadline is August 15; space is limited to 25 teams. All costs for the training are underwritten by InFaith Community Foundation. Visit FaithTrustInstitute.org for more information, or email firstname.lastname@example.org
I encourage any faith community working to end homelessness to join us for one or both of these events.
Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune is the Founder and Senior Analyst at FaithTrust Institute in Seattle, WA. A graduate of Yale Divinity School, she is a pastor, educator, and author as well as a practicing ethicist and theologian. Her books include Keeping the Faith: Guidance for Christian Women Facing Abuse and Sexual Violence: The Sin Revisited.
Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
Faith Trust Institute
2900 Eastlake Ave E., Suite 200
Seattle, WA 98102
If you’re interested in reading more blog posts like this one, check out “Self-determination, Safety, and Stability: Domestic Violence Housing First” by Linda Olsen of WSCADV