Thursday, March 28, 2013
Legislative Action Day 2013: Intersections of Sexual Violence and Homelessness
For the past four years, BARCC staff members have participated in the Mass Coalition for the Homeless Action Day at the State House. The purpose of this powerful day is to educate legislators and request adequate funding for homelessness programs. The Coalition and BARCC have three main housing related budget priorities: to maintain appropriate funding for Emergency Assistance Family Shelter, to have affordable housing programs available for families in need, and to increase funding for housing and support services geared specifically toward homeless youth. There is a strong overlap between homelessness and sexual violence and through our advocacy on behalf of homeless individuals, we are given the opportunity to highlight this important link to legislators and be part of a bigger voice working towards an end to sexual violence and re-victimization.
While homelessness has become a pervasive and widespread issue, many people do not realize its connection with sexual assault. At BARCC, we have seen firsthand how a sexual assault incident(s) can lead to homelessness. For example, an individual might run away from home after an assault by a household member and have no where to go, or they may not feel safe in their home because the perpetrator knows where they live. Too often, homeless and vulnerable individuals are forced to accept unsafe housing situations where they are sexually assaulted in exchange for a place to sleep. This violation creates additional hurdles to a homeless survivor as it may increase an individual’s risk for re-victimization because they may not feel safe staying in a shelter and may have difficulty accessing an alternate safe and stable place to heal.
This harsh reality became very apparent through a recent survivor situation our staff Advocate provided assistance on. The survivor had been raped by fellow residents at the homeless shelter where they had all been staying. It was a devastating situation where the survivor felt safer living on the street than going into another homeless shelter, and there was no other alternative emergency shelter option available. Sadly, this is not an infrequent scenario.
The morning portion of the action day included many personal and poignant accounts of homelessness across all ages. Only one speaker, a young person from Youth on Fire, spoke specifically about this fear of sexual violence within shelters and alternative housing options. He expressed that shelter was not a safe option for a young man due to being targeted for sexual assault. While sexual violence is a prevalent problem, for many individuals, it is still not a comfortable topic to address openly, and for this reason, we are glad that BARCC was able to participate in the day to raise awareness regarding the connectivity of the issues.
After listening to the speakers’ powerful narratives, we found it empowering to meet with legislators in the afternoon to provide them with information, share BARCC’s specific ties to the issue, and stress the importance of supporting these budget allocations to agencies working with homeless individuals. This year for the first time, BARCC distributed a factsheet that shed light on the interconnectedness between sexual violence and homelessness. To illustrate the statistics we provided, we shared a few scenarios from client experiences we have witnessed.
We are proud to be a part of the Mass Coalition for the Homeless’ Action Day as we know that this advocacy work matters for the safety and healing process of many sexual assault survivors.
Karen Dahl, Advocate
Clare Namugga, Senior Case Manager