Last resort shelter for women – How housing shortage contributes to the spiral of abuse

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From: Lena Bammert

Help sign from women in need. Anyone who sees this should call the police. © rolf kremming / Imago

The lack of housing hits victims of domestic violence twice. First he prevents those affected from escaping, then he thwarts their new beginnings.

Munich – When the police came to their apartment for the first time, Jana did not report her ex-husband. Yes, he was violent, regularly slapped her in the face. But – back then it was all about her own body. Yes, sometimes he would take money away from Jana and leave her without food in their shared apartment, where she wasn’t allowed to open the windows, had to lower the blinds and on whose floor she slept because he wouldn’t let her have her own furniture. But – back then it was all about her own life.

When he was constantly smoking, next to her and her pregnant belly, two packs a day, sometimes shisha. That’s when she knew she had to go. A judge forbade him to go near her. He didn’t comply and canceled the lease.

Domestic violence: She only reported him when he tried to punch her in the stomach – and almost became homeless

According to figures from the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs, around 15,000 to 17,000 women and their children find shelter in women’s shelters and refugee apartments every year. According to this, every fourth woman experiences physical or sexual violence at least once from her current or former partner. More than 80 percent of the victims of intimate partner violence are women. Since the latest evaluation by the Federal Criminal Police Office, it has also become clear that around half of them lived in the same apartment as the suspect. “We have to assume that many cannot separate because living space cannot be found or cannot be financed,” says Gisela Pingen-Rainer, officer for protection against violence and domestic violence at the Catholic Women’s Social Service.

Katharina Rosinger, the deputy head of the intervention center at the Munich district office, goes into an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung further: “In the district of Munich, the housing shortage* is a very specific factor in the violence. Due to the fact that there is no possibility of physical separation, many women have to persevere in an abusive relationship. If there was enough affordable housing, we could intervene in good time and prevent a lot.”

Lack of housing in Munich: women’s shelters as a refuge – not everyone can find shelter

Jana lives in Munich. When her ex-husband terminated the rental contract, she was unable to find a new apartment quickly, but found shelter in the Karla 51 women’s shelter. There, women with and without children ask for a place to sleep almost every day after they felt forced to leave the family apartment due to violence leaving. Not all women who inquire are accommodated.

Isabel Schmidhuber, the head of the Munich women’s shelter Karla 51, summarizes the situation: “We get around 2,000 inquiries every year. We can accommodate about ten percent of them. In 2020 we hosted 212 women with 57 children. 18 women were pregnant when they were admitted.” It is not known how often people seeking protection are unable to find a place in women’s shelters or similar facilities. There is no central data collection. But it is clear that these cases are part of the reality in Germany, because there are too few women’s shelters.

If the local housing market is very dense and there are no affordable apartments, then moving out of the women’s shelter becomes problematic for many women. The payers sometimes put real pressure on if the stay lasts longer.

In 2006, the Council of Europe recommended that there should be one place in a women’s shelter for every 7,500 people registered. Berlin (1.57) and Bremen (1.34) manage that. All other federal states do not. Bavaria, Saxony and Saarland don’t even get half a place. The values ​​refer to the year 2020 and were Correctiv.Lokal, a nationwide network of local journalists and experts. If those affected get a place in one of the women’s shelters, the search is not over yet.

Women’s shelters: Temporary homes – length of stay has been increasing continuously since 2010

Women’s shelters are places for women who have been subjected to violence. A temporary home. They are not shelters for homeless women. After that they need their own apartments. And they often don’t find it. “If the local housing market is very dense and there are no affordable apartments, then moving out of the women’s shelter becomes problematic for many women. The payers sometimes put real pressure on if the stay lasts longer,” says Pingen-Rainer.

In its resident statistics for 2020, the Frauenhauskoordination association states that the length of stay has been increasing continuously since 2010. Here, too, the difficult housing market situation is given as one of the reasons. Most often, however, the length of stay is still less than a week. 6.7 percent stay for more than six months. For Pingen-Rainer, that’s a number that shouldn’t continue to rise: “That really has to remain the exception. We see that this is otherwise a burden for the women who live there in a cramped space. It’s also always important to work with them on perspective.”

Statistics from the women’s shelter coordination association: Every fifth woman returns to Peiniger

Perspectives, new beginnings, opportunities – without their own home, these concepts remain just a glimmer of hope for those affected. No income of their own, lack of knowledge, reservations about single mothers, racism. According to Pingen-Rainer, the list of obstacles that stand between the women and their own homes is long. According to the statistics of the women’s shelter coordination association, in 2020 every fifth woman returned to the former home of the abuser after staying in the women’s shelter.

This is also due to the fact that women repeatedly fail when looking for accommodation. In order to defuse the situation, there have been so-called second stage projects for several years. These projects try to place those affected in the housing market in a targeted manner and to support them in the follow-up consultation.

Jana’s son is now eight months old. As Jana tells her story, he keeps squeaking into her words. The recording is on the website of the women’s shelter where Jana found shelter. For protection, her name and voice have been anonymized[1]. Together with the youth welfare office, she is still looking for an apartment for herself and her son. Towards the end, an employee of the women’s shelter asks what Jana would like most: “A normal life, like all mothers do.”

by Lena Bammert

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