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'You will die without me': Abuse and its connection to becoming homeless

A woman recalls deciding between living in a violent home with her kids or living on the streets and losing her children. SAFE says her story isn't uncommon.

AUSTIN, Texas — Lisa Pous spends her day helping survivors of domestic abuse heal. 

She is the director of peer support at SAFE, an organization that offers support and services to abuse victims. 

"In one aspect, it’s kind of all I knew," said Pous of her job, "surviving and helping other people survive."

Pous said she was abused as a child before becoming homeless at 12 years old.

She then said she was picked up in sex and labor trafficking before getting into an abusive relationship for 13 years. She said her ex-husband was physically and emotionally abusive. 

RELATED: Her bag was stolen. The homeless drug addict who returned it would become one of her closest friends.

"If we can’t afford to leave or have anywhere to go, the only option is homelessness. But you don’t get to keep your kids if you’re homeless," said Pous, who has three kids. "So then the abusers' threats become real: 'You will die without me. You can’t breathe without me. You won't keep the kids. You’re a terrible mom. I am the best you can do. You should be glad you have me. No one else will love you.'"

Julia Span, the co-CEO of SAFE, said she hears stories like Pous's all the time. 

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"They can’t stay in their home because there are death threats that are happening," she said. "People have to make that horrible decision every day in this community, about, 'Well, will I put myself in danger or will my children and I be homeless?' And that’s a horrible decision to have to make."

Ending Community Homelessness Coalition's 2019's homeless count revealed 70% of Travis County's homeless people report past trauma or abuse caused them to become homeless.

"What we also know is that 80% of homeless mothers are homeless because of domestic violence," said Span, "so people are fleeing their home, for reasons of safety because their home is so unsafe. The intersection between family homelessness, women’s homelessness and domestic violence is huge and terrifyingly scary."

RELATED: Our Homeless: Struggle on the Streets

Pous understands that statistic firsthand.

"I'm ever so grateful that people were able to help me because I could not have turned my life around on my own," said Pous. 

She encouraged anyone who needs help to reach out to SAFE.


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