The number of families fleeing domestic violence has surged during the Covid-19 pandemic, but many face numerous barriers in accessing housing and other services, a new report has found.
Many parents end up moving from crisis and various short-term accommodation options several times before finding a more stable place for themselves and their children, the report, carried out for homeless charity Focus Ireland, discloses.
The average number of moves was 4.5 but some moved as many as 12 times.
The report arose from growing concerns in the charity’s family homeless services about the level of domestic violence and trauma experienced by service users.
There was a 43 per cent increase in contact with Women’s Aid services in 2020 compared to 2019, while gardaí got 43,500 calls to respond to domestic abuse incidents in 2020, a 17 per cent increase on the previous year.
Co-authored by Dr Paula Mayock, associate professor at the School of Social Work and Social Policy in Trinity College Dublin, and Fiona Neary, a consultant in gender-based violence and change management, the Focus Ireland report was based on interviews with 17 parents (16 female and one male), various service providers and other collaboration and research.
When leaving an abusive relationship, protective systems were mostly absent, leaving parents to cope independently without adequate financial means to find a solution to their homelessness, the report found.
Many stayed with a family member/friend after they first left home due to domestic abuse, with the effect a substantial number were the “hidden” homeless, meaning their domestic abuse remained concealed for many weeks and, in some cases, for several months.
All the parents said their children experienced considerable distress and anxiety as a result of the upheaval, but they found it difficult to access the relevant supports.
Speaking during an online launch of the report, Dr Mayock said accounts of trauma and traumatising experiences were “pervasive” across all those interviewed. The trauma parents experienced after leaving the abusive home “was compounded by long stays in homeless services and lack of supports for the children”.
A significant barrier for single parents trying to obtain a home in the private rented sector was discrimination from landlords because of their status as Housing Assistance Payment (HAP) recipients and single parents, the report found.
Homeless service providers do not feel equipped to properly address the needs of these families who had experiences of domestic violence, it also found.
Published as the Department of Justice is finalising the third National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, the report makes recommendations for improved co-ordination of services to reduce trauma and the risk of homelessness.
Focus Ireland director of advocacy, communications and research Mike Allen said about 150 families were homeless when the first National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-Based Violence was published in 2010, but there are now over 800.
Part of the context for the third strategy “must be the Government’s commitment to work towards ending homelessness entirely by 2030”, he said.
The third strategy “needs to go much further in closing off pathways from domestic violence into homelessness” and the report provides the evidence and analysis to achieve that, he said.
The recommendations include establishing a “clear pathway” of support at national and local level for families experiencing domestic violence, and ensuring trauma-informed, gender-informed and family-centred responses.
Housing-led solutions must be the “primary response” to families experiencing domestic abuse, underpinned by the goal of providing families with rapid access to safe, secure housing or supporting victims/survivors to remain in their current home.
If homeless services will continue to provide emergency or medium-term accommodation to families who leave an abusive home, these services must be adequately resourced and equipped, it also says.
Noting that women who access a domestic violence refuge are not currently counted as homeless, it says accurate and complete data is critical to planning for provision of safe, sustainable housing solutions for those who leave their homes because of domestic abuse.
Accommodation path of three women (names changed)
Annette, age 43 Homes of family and friends (two months); back to partner (12 months); sleeping rough and emergency homeless hostels (one week); family hub (15 months); supported temporary accommodation (six months)
Kasia, age 32 Guest house, self-financed until money ran out (two weeks); emergency B&B/homeless hotels (three weeks); domestic violence refuge (three months); private rented accommodation with Housing Assistance Payment (three months); had recently received notice to quit.
Ines, age 40 Homeless hostel (one night); domestic violence refuge (eight months); emergency homeless accommodation (B&B) (two months)
"It was like, at that time, they'd (children) wake up every morning and go, 'Mammy, are we moving today?" – Karen, age 30
"It's just so much worse going round in limbo with no stability. You don't have time to really think because you're just moving again. Literally, not even time to sit down and think about anything." – Tara, age 25