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How experiencing domestic violence as a child can lead to chronic homelessness as an adult

47% of homeless school-aged children say they’ve witnessed domestic violence.
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Posted at 6:17 PM, Mar 25, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-25 18:17:39-04

TAMPA, Fla. — A local agency fighting homelessness has noticed a disturbing correlation. A link between chronic homelessness and people who experienced domestic violence during their teenage years.

ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill dug deeper into that connection and found out what’s being done to protect local families who find themselves homeless due to domestic violence.

Jennifer Hardimen had to grow up fast and at a young age. She experienced domestic violence in her home. She says her father was an alcoholic and used to beat her mother.

Due to that traumatic experience, Jennifer ran away at the age of 12. “When you’re that young and you get dragged into your parents’ confusion, it leaves a not so good impression on you,” Jennifer said.

However, her problems wouldn’t end by moving out. Later in life, she faced a drug problem, followed by prison. “My homelessness didn’t start until I had a prison run and after that stint when I got out, it was hard to bounce back,” Jennifer said.

Since then, it’s been hard for her to maintain a home for herself and her two daughters. Thousands of women across the Bay Area have similar stories of experiencing or witnessing domestic violence at a young age, followed by chronic homelessness in their adult lives.

According to the ACLU, 47% of homeless school-aged children say they’ve witnessed domestic violence.

“We see that time and time again. In fact, we see that way too often, and it’s prevalent amongst people of color,” said Kirk Ray Smith, president and CEO of Hope Villages of America in Pinellas County.

Few shelters allow families to stay together. So, Hope Villages provides 90 beds for displaced families.

“When we see those families come in, we hear these stories over and over: how this started when they were teens, you know, 15, 16, 17 and it continues almost as if it was stratified. And so they’re generationally stuck in that cycle because their parents went through the very same thing,” Smith said.

According to a study conducted by the ACLU, 46% of domestic violence survivors in Florida reported that they experienced homelessness as a result of the violence.

So, why are we seeing a connection between those experiencing domestic violence in the formative years and chronic homelessness? One expert tells ABC Action News, it has everything to do with untreated trauma.

“Traumatic experiences, especially if they aren’t addressed holistically, can leave lasting challenges for survivors,” said Mindy Murphy, president and CEO of The Spring of Tampa Bay. The organization provides assistance to thousands of survivors of domestic violence in the Bay Area.

"Young women, from high school age until the early 20s, are at the greatest risk of losing their lives as a result of domestic violence," Murphy said.

Another reason why maintaining a home for people in abusive relationships is a challenge is because landlords will often evict tenants when violence occurs in the home, regardless of whether the tenant is the perpetrator or the victim of violence.

The reauthorization of a Congressional bill can help change that. The U.S. House of Representatives recently voted on the Violence Against Women Act. It received unanimous Democratic support and yea votes from 29 Republicans. If the bill passes the Senate, the Act will allow for leases to be divided in order to evict only the perpetrator of violence. It will also make it illegal for public housing complexes or for landlords who accept Section 8 vouchers to reject an applicant who is a survivor of domestic violence.

Back in Pinellas County, Jennifer is staying in a shelter and trying to get back on her feet. “I have two girls at home and I don’t want them to feel that this is the way a relationship is supposed to be. I want to break the cycle right now,” she said. “Get a healthy me, so that I can have a healthy life and show my kids a healthy new start.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, there is help in the Bay Area. Here are some resources:

The Spring of Tampa Bay (813) 247-7233

RCS Grace House (727) 446-5964