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Danielle Tavares-Lopes knows first hand how domestic abuse can lead to homelessness even for a hard-working high school graduate like herself.
She is not alone. Community groups counseling domestic violence victims say dozens of women and children are driven into homelessness each year when they are forced to flee from their homes with no place to go to escape physical harm or even death.
Nanci Kreidman, who heads the Domestic Violence Action Center, says policymakers and community providers generally overlook domestic violence as one of the causes of homelessness, focusing instead on poverty, mental illness and drug abuse.
“For solutions to homelessness to be effective,” she says, “all the causes have to be considered including family violence and the particular attention that must be paid to address abuse victims’ fears and their need to get into safe housing quickly.
On Monday, Kreidman, policymakers and community leaders met at the Plaza Club at a conference called “True Nexus: Domestic Violence is Cause of Houselessness” to consider how to forge stronger alliances between homeless care providers and groups helping domestic violence survivors.
Danielle Tavares-Lopes’ story illustrates how even a gainfully employed adult when faced with a partner’s drug-fueled domestic violence can end up homeless.
Danielle once was employed as baker, creating brownies, macaroons and cakes for parties at a popular bakery in Waianae.
“It was something I had a real passion for, working in the bakery. It was something that brought me real joy. I love my kids but going to work was also kind of a relief. I looked forward to each day,” she said.
Then, she says, her boyfriend began causing trouble, including threatening her.
“He didn’t understand where I was coming from. He didnʻt think I was going to work. He thought I was cheating on him. He kept urging me to quit my job. He started showing up at the bakery to threaten me,” she said.
Eventually, the bakery owner persuaded Danielle to quit her job.
One night, shortly afterward she stopped working, she and her boyfriend had a terrible fight. She says still fears for her safety and has a restraining order for protection.
After they separated, she tried to resume life with her children in the rented house. But the landlord evicted her for nonpayment of rent. She says she found out the rent had not been fully paid for months because her boyfriend had been keeping some of the rent money for his own needs.
After she was evicted, she says she lived with relatives for a while but eventually they needed the rooms she was occupying to continue a remodeling project. Danielle and her children, ages 3 and 6, moved in a van to Keaau Beach Park. But after being rousted from the park time and time again by police, she drove to her in-laws’ house where she and her children now live in the yard in the van.
She gets by on $700 in welfare payments and makes a little additional money by selling cakes and brownies she bakes in her in-laws’ kitchen.
The Domestic Violence Action Center is helping her get back on her feet. But after more than four months, she is still waiting for an opening at either Ohana o Ola Kahumana or Ulu Ke Kukui transitional housing in Waianae.
“It is very frustrating. Transitional housing facilities are supposed to give special consideration to families in emergency situations and in situations of potential danger. I want my kids to be able to live more normal, settled lives, not sleeping in a van,” says Danielle.
Ann Menard, the keynote speaker at Monday’s meeting to address the connection between homelessness and domestic violence, says, “It is not possible to end family homelessness without understanding domestic violence and addressing it.”
Menard is CEO of the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. She says homeless people escaping family violence have special needs including needing time to recover from the abuse, safe housing and help to rebuild their credit and find employment, as well as counseling for their children.
“Each family’s needs are different. There needs to be an array of options,” she says.
Menard says economic abuse is a way for an abusive person to control a partner, such as slashing a woman’s tires so she can’t get to work or, like in Danielle Tavares-Lopes case, harassing them at work to the point where their employers don’t want them around anymore. Or taking their paycheck and spending it until a partner is without financial resources.
Hawaii providers are looking to create a database with good statistics on how many in the state are homeless because of domestic abuse.
Kimo Carvalho of the Institute for Human Services says about 5 percent to 10 percent or about 100 people coming into IHS shelters each year say they are there because of domestic violence,
Chris Van Bergeijk of the Hawaii Community Foundation says that although domestic violence is not the main reason for homelessness “it is a critical factor that deserves more attention.”
She says statistics from an initiative HCF is helping to fund with other community groups show that during fiscal year 2017, 12 percent of people seeking housing at eight Hawaii emergency or transitional housing sites said they had become homeless because of domestic violence.
Partners in Care coordinates the state’s annual homeless point-in-time count. Director Jen Stasch says questions need to be added to the survey to find out if domestic violence is what made them become homeless.
Currently, volunteer interviewers ask homeless people if they have a mental health disability or if they have alcohol or drug problems or if they are living with HIV/AIDS, but not if the are living unsheltered to get away from an abuser.
Kreidman of the Domestic Violence Action Center says this is just a beginning and that there is still much more to be done to make life better for survivors like Danielle Tavares-Lopes.
“We have to keep pushing to do justice for families suffering from abuse because safe family life is at the core of a healthy community,” she says. “Right now as a community we are only pretending we have sufficiently addressed the problem.”