New study lists domestic violence among top causes of homelessness in Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY – Mental health and substance abuse are some of the causes we hear a lot about when it comes to homelessness, but a new study adds domestic violence as one of the top reasons.

The Utah Foundation surveys voters to find out what priorities matter most to them. No. 9 on their list is homelessness and poverty, particularly some of the resources available to vulnerable populations.

There are an estimated 13,460 Utahns who are homeless on any given night in 2016. That’s a 7.2 percent decrease from 2015, according to the Utah Foundation. Overall, the group says there’s a decline in homelessness in Utah, but researchers cite a new cause for alarm when it comes to one of the common reasons for it.

More than 1 in 5 homeless Utahns report experiencing domestic violence, and most who report that are women with children.

“Which is something that most people don't think about. They tend to think of, oh, you know, people on the street with a shopping cart or something,” said Shawn Teigen, Research Director for the Utah Foundation.

Shawna Spencer is the Domestic Violence Services Officer for the YWCA of Utah. She works with the more than 300 women and children who seek refuge at the shelter every month.

“They are starting to rebuild, and the first thing is safety, shelter, food and clothing: That's where we help them start,” Spencer said.

Spencer says victims often leave the shelter with a stable job, and affordable housing, but most importantly, they leave with piece of mind from knowing their family will have a better life.

“It's a very, very, brave decision, and a woman probably doesn't know that her decision to leave is the time she's at most at risk of being killed by her abuser," Spencer said.

Teigen says the study can help advocates and lawmakers make better decisions for domestic violence victims.

“Instead of having all of the services concentrated in one area, move some services into communities and make them feel more accessible," Teigen said.

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