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Domestic violence survivors leave one trauma for another without adequate housing

The Maricopa Association of Governments approved a resolution of support for Domestic Violence Awareness Month, with a focus on those experiencing homelessness as a result of domestic violence.

Kelli Williams, MAG’s director of human services, said the first step is scheduling events across the Valley to bring awareness to what survivors endure.

“There are not enough beds,” said Williams. “Every bed across our community .... dedicated to DV survivors (is full). So, how can we bring just more attention to this community and more resources?”

Williams said several cities and police departments are planning supply drives for domestic violence shelters this month.

One survivor said she’s glad MAG is kickstarting the conversation about people like her.

‘Kyle’ fled her abuser a little over three years ago with two suitcases and nothing else. For her safety, KJZZ News is not using her real name.

“It's baby steps like MAG is taking,” she said. “We have to be able to explore what people's experiences are.”

That way, Kyle said, services can be refined to better serve people. For example, housing programs.

'I’ve lost my dignity'

“There’s a gap in bridging those services for survivors because we are one of the most vulnerable populations in the homelessness sector,” said Kyle.

Kyle said survivors like her experience added trauma without a safe place to “move from victim, survivor and into thriver.”

A victim, she explained, “is actively in the abuse.”

“It takes a lot of courage to move from that and then get to a place of being a survivor,” said Kyle. “But even surviving in it, you're still subjected to trauma.”

Whether it’s witnessed or experienced, Kyle said that being unsheltered was one way that she experienced additional violence.

“I had to go down to CASS,” she recalled. “And when I went down there I was actually physically assaulted. And no one did anything about it. It was in that moment, I think, when something changed in me. I don’t know if I’ll ever be the same, but I think the biggest thing that it’s brought upon me is I’ve lost my dignity.”

The feeling of losing self-worth is something many survivors struggle with under the weight of the abuse they are either still processing or haven’t had the chance to yet.

“To have that extra layer of feeling like you could be beaten up and people are watching and they don’t do anything about it,” Kyle said. “That was really devastating for me. Then on top of it, still being in the system and trying to find affordable housing or permanent housing.”

'I want my freedom'

The appropriate resources can open the door to hope, which Kyle said has been difficult to find in her experience.

“It's not just about survivors being displaced and without a home,” she said. “It’s a matter of life and death because many of us are running for our lives.”

Kyle described being in a state of fear and survival for so long as feeling like a kind of purgatory and makes the future difficult to envision.

“I want nothing more than a safe home that nobody can take away from me,” she said, “where I can have stability. I want my freedom. And I want just a simple life, where I don’t have to run anymore.”

"And I’m at the point where I can see others behind me. I feel like it’s my responsibility to pull them ahead and be like, ‘You can do this. You can do this.'" — Domestic abuse survivor "Kyle"

People have asked Kyle what it’s like to be homeless many times, and she said her answer is always the same.

“It should be a right for everyone to have a home,” said Kyle. “When you don’t have one, and it’s never been one where you felt emotionally safe, it’s just that everlasting feeling of feeling homesick for a home that doesn’t exist. I don’t have that right now, and I have longed for that. And I don’t know what it looks like for me.”

Kyle is working on becoming what she calls a thriver, someone who lives beyond just surviving.

“I've had women that were ahead of me that showed me how they were able to deal with some situations and they kind of pull me ahead,” said Kyle. “And I’m at the point where I can see others behind me. I feel like it’s my responsibility to pull them ahead and be like, ‘You can do this. You can do this.’”

A cycle that can be broken

Kyle urges people to take a look inside themselves and examine the way they view survivors of domestic violence, people experiencing homelessness, and especially those dealing with both. The cycle of violence, she said, keeps many people trapped.

“That’s what ultimately leads people to trying to find another escape,” said Kyle. “Whether it be drug addiction or whatever is needed in order to survive. It’s the trauma.”

As communities honor during Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Kyle said she hopes that won’t be the end of the conversation.

Williams said that along with starting conversations, MAG hopes to deliver a message to those who haven’t made it out yet: “There’s no need to stay in that situation because you’re worried that help is not available.”

Domestic abuse, Williams said, is a cycle that can be broken. And providing a safe space for conversation and resources year-round are some of the first steps.

Kyle said she’s working not just to thrive in her own life, but to help others to find enough hope to start on their own path.

“I want to be able to help in any way possible to be able to bridge that gap,” said Kyle. “Working with community or the government or city officials to be able to provide that feeling that there is a place for everybody, everybody deserves to have a home. Whatever that looks like. And that, I think, is where you find your dignity.”

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Kirsten Dorman is a field correspondent at KJZZ. Born and raised in New Jersey, Dorman fell in love with audio storytelling as a freshman at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2019.