While women’s homelessness has been largely invisible in the past, a growing body of feminist research is documenting the structural barriers that women face when trying to access help or stabilize their living situation.
Conducted by a research collective in eight administrative regions, this study sought to document the links between intimate partner violence (IPV) and homelessness.
Life story interviews were conducted with 46 women between the ages of 21 and 81 who had experienced both IPV and homelessness in the five years prior to the study. An analysis of the women’s life trajectories combined with a thematic content analysis based on an intersectional feminist theoretical perspective made it possible to identify four “typical trajectories” marking the women’s transition to homelessness, as well as various experiences of institutional violence that led to precarious living conditions and (re)produced situations of homelessness. 25 of the 46 women interviewed were found to have experienced homelessness prior to intimate partner violence. These women had an unstable intimate history of short relationships interspersed with periods of homelessness. All of the other women (21) experienced a transition to homelessness as a result of a long and significant intimate relationship.
The trajectories of these women can be broken down into three configurations. For some women (7), homelessness was caused by spousal abuse. For others (6), it was the result of numerous attempts to leave the violent relationship. Finally, for a last subgroup (8), the transition to homelessness occurred after the final breakup, as a result of post-separation violence and the deterioration of their living situation. Our analyses also documented many instances of institutional violence experienced by the participants, which led to precarious living conditions and (re)produced situations of homelessness. Among others, we note: 1) the discontinuity in placement and lack of support provided for girls in youth protection; 2) failure to recognize coercive control; 3) the exclusion and revictimization of abused women with mental health issues or 4) who use drugs and alcohol, mainly in the case of mothers, and finally, 5) limited access to housing resources.
These results were presented, discussed and enriched during ten focus groups bringing together almost 200 practitioners working in the field of violence against women, feminist intervention and homelessness. These groups helped to expand the results of the study concerning the services available for women in the different regions studied, and to identify the social, political and economic issues that influence the support networks and living situations of women in these regions. The partnership approach used for the study fostered knowledge transfer and uptake and led to the formulation of ten recommendations for consolidating the support network for abused women and their children, in order to help stabilize their living situations and prevent homelessness. The implementation of these recommendations will of course need to consider regional needs and realities.
Marie-Marthe Cousineau, Université de Montréal
Catherine Flynn, Université du Québec à Chicoutimi
Deposit of the research report: March 2021