The Challenge: Domestic violence is one of the leading causes of homelessness for women and children. The 2010 Federal Strategic Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness cites a study that says “Among mothers with children experiencing homelessness, more than 80% had previously experienced domestic violence.” The availability of safe, affordable, and stable housing is critical for a survivor’s ability to escape an abusive partner. Without viable housing options, survivors are often forced to remain in abusive relationships, accept inadequate or unsafe housing conditions, or become homeless. Domestic violence survivors with their children are present throughout the homeless/housing system. Can a Housing First approach work for survivors of domestic violence? What would it take for this approach to be successful for survivors in domestic violence and housing/homeless agencies?________________________________________________________________________________
How are the needs of homeless domestic violence survivors unique?
- Safety concerns are the primary difference. The search for safe, stable housing often takes place in the shadow of an abusive, controlling partner/ex-partner. Life circumstances and time may decrease the level of threat, but it rarely goes away completely. Research suggests that stability in housing actually increases safety for survivors.
- Sabotage by an abuser may greatly impact a survivor’s efforts to find and maintain employment and housing. Even if there are no sabotaging efforts actively taking place, the mental tape recordings of certain failure without the abuser may be a barrier to success.
- Discrimination in housing occurs for many homeless populations. Domestic violence is often a reason for landlords to refuse housing. The Violence Against Women Act prohibits this in public housing. Many states have made this practice illegal for all landlords. However, reasons given for turning down a rental application, if given at all, may not reference domestic violence even when that is clearly the reason.
Can a Housing First approach work for domestic violence survivors?
While emergency shelter options for domestic violence survivors will always be necessary, the work done by the Volunteers of America Home Free Program in Portland, OR (http://www.voaor.org/homefree) shows that Rapid Re-Housing can be very effective in helping survivors access permanent housing more quickly. A pilot project in Washington State funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and coordinated by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence focuses on helping survivors retain or access permanent housing quickly—often bypassing emergency shelters. This project has produced some promising results for survivors (www.wscadv.org) . Nine new agencies were recently added to the current four-agency cohort in order to continue testing service model strategies.
What does this DV Housing First project look like?
- Survivor-Driven Advocacy which encompasses:
- Safety planning
- Reinforcement of survivor autonomy and self-determination
- Creative options/realistic resources
- Tailored, voluntary services
- Flexible funds that can be used for rental assistance and housing/utility deposits as well as a variety of expenses (such as car repair, car insurance, job-related expenses, emergency child care needs, necessities for children, lock changes, home security features, bad debt, and household items).
- Strong partnerships with private landlords, public housing authorities, low-income housing developers, and housing/homeless organizations, with DV information or training components provided by DV advocates and tailored to each group’s needs.
What about homeless prevention?
The DV organizations piloting this project are finding that survivors who would never go to shelter are benefitting from DV Housing First services. Housing First strategies are enabling advocates to ask about safety and stability for survivors in their current homes. The result is that many survivors are able to stay in their home with safety features and temporary financial support, possibly preventing them from future homelessness.
This web page will be updated with current information from the field. See also the National Alliance to End Homelessness domestic violence web page at http://www.endhomelessness.org/section/issues/domestic_violence