Waking up to the smell of smoke, Steven realized his tent was on fire. He could not stand up because the woman he identified as his attacker had her back stuck to their air mattress.
After surviving that night, Steven said he knew he had to get away from his attacker or die. Since February, he has found refuge at Harmony House, a Springfield shelter providing a safe haven for survivors of domestic violence.
âIt was a lifeline,â said Steven, who asked that his last name not be used. âHarmony House gave me a place to go that was safe. A place my attacker couldn’t get to. They helped me settle in so that I could find work. They have had lessons here that have helped, they have the best lessons I have had.
For three years, Steven was homeless and homeless in Springfield after being evicted from his home in 2017. At a low point, he said, he started a relationship with a woman who was also homeless and quickly came to rely on her for survival.
âEverything went well at the start. But I was isolated from my support system, friends, mentors, etc. Then the physical abuse started, and when I tried to get out, it found me everywhere I went.
The woman, who Steven did not name, controlled all the money the two would earn and would forbid him to leave her.
âMost of the time, I didn’t make any money. My attacker wouldn’t let me go out and do this. I would go out for a few hours, but when I came back she made me regret everything I had done.
If he didn’t follow his rules, Steven faced retaliation such as the tent incident.
âThere was a time when we put up this tent and we had an air mattress. My back started to get very hot and I woke up and realized the tent was on fire. But I was the only one inside and when I tried to get up from the air mattress, it stuck on me, âSteven said. âI later found out that she stuck my back to the air mattress, then set the tent on fire. If she was mad at me, I would always be afraid that things like this would happen.
If he left, she would find him and punish him. He couldn’t afford to leave the street. And as a man, no one believed he was being abused, he said.
âWhen I reported to the cops and stuff, they didn’t care about that,â he said. âBasically they told me there was nothing they could do about it. And then they told me that they were going to wait until they saw me do something to him and throw me in jail.
But those at Harmony House believed it, he said.
According to Harmony House Accommodation and Education Coordinator Sarah Spillman, there have always been men who have survived domestic violence and they have benefited from Harmony House since 2016.
âThe rate of domestic violence is about one in three for women, but it is one in four for men. So, you know, really anyone can be a victim of domestic violence. It covers all socioeconomic status, jobs, background and gender, âSpillman said. âSo it is very important that the community recognizes that domestic violence as a whole is a huge problem in our community and that it can affect absolutely anyone, including men. “
Harmony House: Extremely Common Financial Abuse
Steven said having a safe place to live away from his attacker is the way he has benefited the most from Harmony House. But besides that, the many courses he took gave him the confidence to control his finances and avoid the streets in the future.
âThere are basic classes like learning to keep track of your money, which I had never done before. Budgeting helps you become more confident and find better ways to keep tabs on your budget. There were even lessons on how, if you have bad bills and the like, how to fit them into your budget, no matter how big your budget is, âSteven said.
Other courses have focused on issues specific to people experiencing financial abuse, which Spillman said was almost universal for people experiencing domestic violence.
âMost survivors of domestic violence are also survivors of financial abuse. It is extremely common. So maybe their abuser used their credit, their abuser may have limited their finances or limited their ability to work. And so, they can kind of start from a negative point, you know, and that involves a little more than just budgeting or opening a savings account.
This is true for Steven, who said he had no control over how little money he and his attacker had.
âYou know, we were homeless, so there wasn’t much. But whatever I had, she would do with it what she wanted. The only thing she made sure was that I had tobacco so that I could smoke. Other than that, I had no guarantees.
This lack of control and his financial history made Steven feel “desperate” that he would one day be able to manage his finances to the point of being able to survive on his own.
âBefore, my budget was not good. My money has always been blown out pretty quickly and I have always had bills that haven’t been paid. And then after being kicked out, my self-esteem with the money and a lot of stuff was bad. “
But thanks to Harmony House, Steven believes he has the tools to survive.
“I think the future holds security and a new start in life for us,” he said. âI qualified for housing programs and am on a waiting list for a few different places. I think I will have my own accommodation soon.