Conclusion: Family Violence and Homelessness: A Review of the Literature

Conclusion

The study of the relationship between family violence and homelessness is at an early stage. The nature of both issues poses significant challenges to researchers as well as policy makers. Among those challenges are the often nebulous and sometimes overlapping definitions of the various categories of homelessness. As well, the hidden status of many of those who fall into either group – both the homeless and the victims of family violence – restricts our ability to know the full extent of either population or the full nature of their circumstances and histories.

Recent research has identified many questions that warrant attention. However, this literature review illustrates that a base of crucial knowledge about the relationship between family violence and homelessness has already been developed. We know that the profile of the homeless population is changing and that increasingly the issue of family violence is identified as a contributing factor – either as an immediate precipitant for homeless people fleeing abusive relationships or as an earlier, childhood experience, the long-term consequences of which include a pattern of chronic or repetitive homelessness in adulthood. The evidence summarized in this review makes a strong case for the conclusion that family violence – in the forms of both spouse abuse and child maltreatment – is a significant contributing factor regarding a great deal of the homelessness that exists in Canada today.

Those research findings also point to the need to ensure that services and facilities established to serve homeless people are sensitive to the realities and consequences of family violence and adequately resourced to respond appropriately. Those services must also be culturally sensitive to the particular realities of Aboriginal, immigrant and racial minority populations. The findings also underline the continuing need for adequate, long-term and affordable housing options that can be offered to victims of family violence. There is evidence that this response – provision of safe and stable housing – may be as valuable to the prevention of the recurrence of family violence as are other forms of prevention and intervention activity.

The importance of adequate housing is also highlighted by the evidence that poor housing and living conditions may themselves give rise to or exacerbate violence in domestic relationships. It is also appreciated that, especially for street youth, the culture that accompanies their homeless lifestyle can have a harmful psychological effect that can be increasingly difficult to reverse as time goes by.

It is hoped that these and other conclusions implied by the literature will form the foundation for the future work of researchers, program managers, policy makers and legislators.

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