Can rapid re-housing work for domestic violence survivors?

Can rapid re-housing work for domestic violence survivors? The short answer is YES! The bigger question, with the longer answer, is how.

The Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) recently coordinated an exciting pilot project to test a housing first approach with domestic violence (DV) survivors. Over a period of five years, 13 domestic violence programs all over Washington State — east to west and urban to rural — implemented a housing first approach through funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The 13 programs were instructed to experiment, take risks, make mistakes, and document what we learned. The final evaluation report revealed some exciting results about housing options, including rapid re-housing, for DV survivors. From that evaluation process, we put together the best practices for DV Housing First and have launched a demonstration project with the help of another Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation investment to further build and document the evidence.

So back to our bigger question: how can rapid re-housing work for DV survivors? Rapid re-housing can work for survivors of DV — with a great deal of flexibility around the services and the length and depth of rental assistance provided. A progressive engagement approach that recognizes the possibility that a survivor might just need a voucher or even permanent supportive housing will also make a difference in the immediate success in housing stability that survivors more often than not experience.

Here are four key components to help ensure the success of rapid re-housing program for DV survivors.

  1. Survivor-driven mobile advocacy is the foundational pillar of flexible work in the community with survivors. Survivors lead the process, choose their own goals, and define what is going to be safer for themselves. With support from an advocate, they define the housing option that they want and determine the resources needed to access and retain that housing.
  2. Flexible financial assistance means unrestricted funds used to support survivors with an assortment of expenses related to things like employment, children’s needs, transportation, and safety measures for the home that might impact their ability to be stable in housing.
  3. Community engagement is lasting connections built by advocates with community members, services and resources. These connections support survivor safety, independence, and housing stability.
  4. Housing stability is the spectrum of housing options that meet a survivor’s unique needs. It is important to have the partnerships and resources for each option: homelessness prevention or shelter diversion which allows survivors to remain safely in their current housing, rapid re-housing, subsidized housing, and permanent supportive housing.

Flexibility is imperative

Considering the issues that come with ending an abusive relationship, including safety and abuser sabotage, survivors face barriers to stability beyond those created by trauma and poverty. Advocacy and other services need to be tailored, responsive, flexible, and voluntary. Quick turnaround time and flexibility with financial assistance are critical.

Rapid re-housing needs to be built on a progressive engagement model that incorporates flexibility in engagement. A survivor who is stably housed in three months may later lose employment because of frequent court hearings, need to re-locate quickly due to threatening visits from an abusive ex-partner, or have an experience that re-triggers a lifetime of trauma resulting in a relapse.