In recognition of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Alliance expresses gratitude for partners in the domestic violence field who are not only wholly committed to helping survivors of domestic violence achieve safety, but are also continuing to innovate to help survivors avoid the trauma of prolonged homelessness.
During this pandemic, survivors may be more isolated than ever before because they are forced to quarantine and maintain “safe” social distancing while living with abusive partners. During the pandemic, survivors may have fewer opportunities, and less privacy, to reach out and seek help. The economic impact of COVID-19, including lost jobs and wages, also takes a toll on the lives of survivors. Economic strain can exacerbate stress in the home and, for survivors who have lost income, may lead them to doubt their ability to afford housing if, and when, they choose to leave.
Local domestic violence programs are rising to the challenge of supporting survivors during the pandemic as best they can, so survivors achieve safety from abuse and from COVID19. Whenever the pandemic subsides and the economy re-opens, domestic violence providers’ challenges may only increase as dedicated emergency shelter and transitional housing programs may be insufficient to meet an overwhelming demand for assistance.
New Housing Tools are Transforming Services for Domestic Violence Survivors
Thanks to the work of innovators and leaders within the domestic violence field, providers now have more tools to meet the housing needs of survivors that may help. These new approaches are rightly being heralded as enabling domestic violence providers to intervene in ways best suited to the varied needs and goals of survivors. They can also work to lessen the strain on existing domestic violence shelter programs so they can respond to those in urgent need of safe accommodation. Examples of new housing tools for survivors include the following.
- Domestic Violence Housing First was first piloted by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV) with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The pilot demonstrated the power of flexible financial assistance, survivor-driven mobile advocacy and community engagement to avert shelter stays when safe to do so AND to help survivors more rapidly exit shelter and transitional housing.
- A 2016 Rule issued by the Department of Justice issued outlines how Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funds can be used to meet the housing needs of survivors. in states and localities. California stands out: the state awarded VOCA funds to 33 programs across the state to implement DV Housing First and evaluated the model’s success in meeting survivors’ housing needs.
- Rapid re-housing specifically targeted to domestic violence survivors (sometimes referred to as DV rapid re-housing) has grown tremendously in recent years. Providers draw on the lessons of DV Housing First to tailor rapid re-housing to meet the needs of survivors. In 2019 alone, an estimated 39,000 survivors were assisted out of homelessness and back into permanent housing with HUD-funded rapid re-housing, more than twice as many that were assisted just two years earlier.
- The HUD-funded “Joint Component” also represents a new way of providing shelter and housing assistance to survivors. The Joint Component is a funding category that supports low-barrier shelter and re-housing assistance that can streamline participants exits from shelter when they choose it. At any moment in time, over 5,000 survivors are being assisted in this program model, more than three times as many than just two years earlier.
These new tools provide opportunities for survivors to stay connected, or get quickly reconnected, to permanent housing. While creating and implementing housing options that are survivor driven, domestic violence providers are also improving the functioning of dedicated emergency shelter and transitional housing.
When survivors who would otherwise enter shelter are given support to stay housed, it can ease the demand for shelter. When survivors who want to leave shelter or transitional housing are helped to do so quickly, shelter resources are freed to help other survivors in crisis. The development of new housing strategies to help survivors can lessen strain on domestic violence shelters so they are enabled to work at they were always intended to: providing immediate and safe respite to survivors who need it and as soon as they need it.
The fate of our two fields are greatly intertwined. People experiencing homelessness find safety, respite and support in domestic violence programs; and survivors of interpersonal violence can likely be found in every homeless service program in the country. We hope to continue to build on our collaborative efforts, to learn from one another, and together scale up safe, responsive systems of care and housing resources that never leaves survivors fleeing domestic violence without safe accommodation when they most need it.