Homeless in Winter

Mom with son and daughter in grassy field

Shortly after arriving in Washington, Rose found a part-time job for the U.S. Postal Service. But between the government shutdown and February’s snowstorms, she went over two months without a full paycheck. Unable to rent an apartment because of the debt she took on to flee her abuser, Rose and her two children bounced between family, hotels, and her car. They were homeless in winter.

Stress, exhaustion, and worry replaced the initial relief Rose felt after putting 2,000 miles between her abuser and the kids. But what hurt Rose the most was watching her children face the ongoing impact of domestic violence combined with the new trauma of homelessness. Rose’s children struggled with their emotions at school and the lack of stability she longed to give them.

Rose reached out to LifeWire. With the help of her LifeWire housing advocate, Rose overcame her difficult rental history and limited income. After five months of wintertime homelessness, the family finally moved into an apartment of their own.

With a stable and safe roof over their heads and the support of LifeWire advocates, Rose and her children are healing and planning for their future. Rose is working on career development and the children are thriving in their new home and schools.

“They are powerful”

On a cold February morning, a dozen Eastside high school students arrived in Olympia. They were excited to participate in Domestic Violence Advocacy Day for the first time. The members of GOVAA (Gender Orientated Violence Advocacy and Activism), an after-school club at Interlake High School, all share a deep commitment to supporting survivors of gender-based violence and promoting healthy relationships within their school and communities. Many have experienced domestic violence in their own families or watched friends struggle with dating violence and unhealthy relationships. They were eager to tell their stories and, as one student shared, “change the world.”

Group of teen smiling at camera

In the morning, the students gathered with DV advocates from across the state to learn about legislation affecting survivors. Many of the youth were surprised by how many of the bills aimed at preventing homelessness and addressing poverty would also help survivors of domestic violence. By the time they met with their representatives, the students felt energized to “improve the lives of our community members.”

Their enthusiasm was contagious. After sharing their personal stories about gender-based violence and how violence impacted their family and friends, a legislative aide told LifeWire’s Social Change Manager, “they are powerful.”

Young people have a tremendous ability to shift culture if we empower them. The youth only spent a day in Olympia, but it had ripple effects in the community and their lives. Several of the bills the youth advocated for became law, increasing protections for survivors and low-income families. GOVAA is looking for other ways to enact policy changes on the Eastside. And one of the students has decided to run for student body office next year.

Domestic Violence and Mental Health

Woman standing with her eyes closed looking sad

Dealing with the mental scars of abuse

Anna started seeing LifeWire’s Mental Health Therapist because she was experiencing symptoms of severe trauma. She felt numb and disoriented, had trouble focusing at work, and was having panic attacks.

Abuse, whether physical or psychological, can affect survivors’ mental health. People who experience trauma because of domestic violence are at significantly higher risk for PTSD, depression, and anxiety. Survivors may also try to escape pain and depression with substance use or consider suicide.

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Domestic Violence and Credit

Concerned woman on phone with laptop and papers in front of her

Unpaid bills

Throughout their marriage, Rebecca’s husband controlled every aspect of their finances. And while the lease to the house had been in both their names, he stopped paying rent to punish her. As a result, Rebecca spent many sleepless nights agonizing over the $1,800 she owed her landlord.

Ninety-eight percent of domestic violence survivors experience financial abuse. Some abusers, like Rebecca’s husband, stop making payments. Others gain power and control over their partner by limiting how they spend money, running up huge debts, or destroying their credit.

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Weathering the storms

Woman in winter clothing and hat standing in snowfall looking towards sun

Unexpected snow day

Debbie was excited when she moved into her own apartment in February. After a year living in shelters, she looked forward to having a place of her own where she felt safe and could continue to heal.

But, the first morning Debbie woke up to several inches of snow. She didn’t know what to do. The neighborhood was unfamiliar, and her fridge and cupboards were still bare.

Fortunately, while February storms closed LifeWire’s office for six days, our advocates continued to provide survivors with vital support and services.

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Amira’s Story

Even though she’d left him, Amira’s abuser kept coming back. He forced and intimidated his way into the home that Amira shared with their five-year-old daughter Hana. He regularly followed her to work, harassing Amira in front of her customers and coworkers. Things became so bad, the 25-year-old Sudanese immigrant was forced to leave her job. Pregnant with her abuser’s child and unsure how to support two children on her own, Amira reached out to LifeWire.

Confident woman

With the help of her advocate, Amira connected with local resources to help meet her basic needs. She began meeting with a LifeWire mental health therapist, who helped Amira process some of the traumas she experienced after years of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse. Amira worked with her advocate to create a safety plan, which included seeking a protection order. LifeWire’s legal advocate connected Amira with a pro bono attorney who helped her obtain a protection plan and set up a parenting plan.

Since Amira obtained her protection order, her abuser stopped contacting her. Instead of worrying about her safety, Amira now has time to raise Hana and her infant son Abdi. Amira is working hard on her long-term goals of raising healthy and safe children, having stable housing, returning to the workforce, and becoming a U.S. citizen.

Renata’s Story

Renata was both relieved and afraid to learn her husband was behind bars. She felt safe, but knew that wouldn’t last. He could be released at any time. Renata wanted to protect herself and her two daughters, but she didn’t have any place to go. And without immigration papers, the Mexican-born woman didn’t have may options. Sensing Renata’s distress, the police officer assigned to her domestic violence case referred her to LifeWire.

Confident woman

With her housing advocate’s help, Renata and her kids relocated to My Sister’s Home, LifeWire’s emergency shelter. My Sister’s Home provided the family with the space and resources they needed to begin healing. After meeting with her legal advocate, Renata learned that she was eligible to apply for a U Visa as a survivor of a violent crime. If awarded, the visa would allow her to live and work legally in the U.S. LifeWire connected her to a pro bono immigration attorney, who helped Renata apply for and receive the temporary visa.

As Renata prepared to leave the shelter and move into her own apartment, she learned that she had to provide a higher security deposit due to her limited rental history. LifeWire used flexible funds to assist with her move-in costs and her first month’s rent.

Today, Renata and her kids are healing. She still attends group therapy sessions and social gatherings with other survivors. Renata wants to help other survivors the way LifeWire staff and volunteers helped her.