Social Justice

Woman became homeless after fleeing domestic abuse. Nobody helped when she slept on streets

A woman tells her story of fleeing the home where she faced domestic abuse. She ended up homeless, sleeping on the streets, with no help from public services

domestic abuse homeless

Domestic abuse and homelessness is often intertwined. Image: Pixabay

Jasmine was sleeping in the street on a cold winter night in January. She huddled in the stairway of a dance school in London with one change of clothes and no cover to protect her from the rain and snow. She was feverish. She had hallucinations. No one stopped to help her. 

“Before I was homeless,” she says, “before I left the house, I applied so many times to the council to tell them I was going to become homeless. And no one checked that. No one emailed me. No one. Nothing.”

Jasmine, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, is far from alone. Domestic abuse is often intertwined with homelessness – experiences of violence and abuse are “near universal” for women who sleep rough, according to the charity Single Homeless Project. 

And it is getting worse. The number of people recorded as homeless as a result of domestic abuse rose 24% in England in the nine-month period from July 2021 to March 2022, compared with the same period the previous year.

Before leaving her abuser, Jasmine worked as a sous chef in a high-pressure restaurant. It was a male-dominated environment with tough hours and her mental health suffered. She had regular panic attacks and nightmares.

And so she left her job, but her life at home was fraught with anxiety. Her husband was emotionally abusive, and it grew worse when she left work and wasn’t bringing money in. He drained her financially. She realised the week before Christmas in 2022 that she had to leave, so she packed a bag with a few changes of clothes and left. 

Jasmine was sleeping on a friend’s couch for a short while, but they asked her to move on. She tried asking local authorities and JobCentres for help but no one could give her any options. 

A friend lent some money for a hostel but then that ran out. She stayed with another friend but she was about to have a baby, imminently, so they had no space for her. And that was when she found herself with nowhere left to go, opposite her pregnant friend’s house in the stairway of a dance school.

She left a note in her universal credit diary saying that she was sleeping rough and, on the second day, she received a phone call from a JobCentre. It came at a point of complete desperation for Jasmine. 

“When I got that call,” the 30-year-old recalls, “I was on my way to the hospital to cut my veins to see if someone could put me in the psych ward so I had at least 72 hours of sleeping somewhere. That was the only way I thought something was going to happen.”

Get help if you are struggling. Call Samaritans for free on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or visit samaritans.org for useful resources and advice on coping. 

The woman on the phone told her to go back to where she was sleeping and an outreach team would come find her and take her to an emergency shelter. But no one came that night. She sat there waiting and looking at every car driving past and every person across the street hoping it was them. But no one came. It was another night on the streets. 

Jasmine turned up at the JobCentre the following morning – desperate and feeling as though she had nowhere else to go. They didn’t want to let her in because she didn’t have an appointment. She was shaking and almost fainted. No one could explain what had happened. They said they couldn’t help her because she was not a local resident. 

She begged them and said she was fleeing domestic violence. After that she was placed in temporary accommodation just two blocks from where she had lived with her abuser. 

“I was having anxiety attacks for over a month,” Jasmine says, “every single day. I was checking number plates just to make sure he wasn’t him. Sometimes I even saw his face.”

Most of the people living in the temporary accommodation were men. Jasmine claims there was drunkenness and drug dealing. The police were at the property most days. She stayed in her room as long as she could, barely eating anything. She was there from January until April this year.

A government spokesperson says: “This situation is clearly unacceptable. We have given councils £1 billion over three years through the Homelessness Prevention Grant to help them tackle homelessness.

“We also changed the law so people made homeless through domestic abuse are a priority and provided over £507 million to councils so victims can receive support within safe accommodation.”

The Home Office also announced up to £8.3 million in funding for organisations around the country who provide vital support for victims of abuse – but many remain overwhelmed.

Jasmine was put into supported accommodation in April, where the conditions were far better, and she was referred to the national women’s charity Advance who supported her through the process. The charity supports women with housing, mental health and emotional wellbeing, family relationships, finance, benefits, and debt.

“More than anything I just needed someone to talk to,” Jasmine says, recalling how a charity worker from Advance contacted her every day to check on how she was coping. She has received help with managing her finances and debt, and she attends workshops and wellbeing sessions at the local women’s centre.

Now Jasmine is in a council flat, but that came with its challenges too. There was no water, electricity or gas when she moved in, and she had to rely on the women’s centre to cook. 

“It doesn’t feel like a home to me,” she says. “Six or seven times in less than six months I needed to move. It was really hard just to stay somewhere.”

She now knows there is help out there – but it was difficult to find. “Even getting referred to a food bank or getting a food bank voucher was almost impossible,” she says. “If you have never struggled with money, you won’t know what kind of resources are available. 

“I was lucky because I don’t have kids. I have bad mental health, but imagine a woman with kids or a child or pregnant not knowing if she is going to have enough food to feed her kids.” 

Jasmine transformed the flat herself and is working towards making it a home, with brightly coloured walls and plants and a projector which displays stars on the ceiling to make her feel free. She is taking small steps towards a better future, but there is still a long way to go and she still feels anxious.

When reminded of just how far she has come and just how brave she has been, Jasmine nods. “I need time to realise that,” she says. “I’ve been surviving all my life. I haven’t realised my journey yet. It is a long work in progress.”

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

Contact the National Abuse Helpline on 08082000247. You can also contact local domestic abuse services and find more resources on the government’s website.

Advance is a specialist women’s organisation providing holistic wraparound support in the community. Through its network of women’s centres, Advance delivers specialist support and advocacy for women who have experienced domestic abuse or are in contact with the criminal justice system.

As well as providing direct support, Advance works with statutory services, government agencies and other women’s charities to ensure a holistic approach to the issues women face. For more information about who Advance can support, please visit their website.

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