Making the Homeless System More Responsive to the Needs of Survivors of Domestic Violence: 2018 CoC NOFA

This post is part of a series to support communities as they work on their 2018 NOFA applications. You can see previous entries here, here, and here.

Survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, stalking, and trafficking are particularly vulnerable to homelessness. The homeless system must be equipped to offer survivors emergency shelter and housing services that are safe and appropriate to their needs.

That’s why the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) set aside dedicated funds for communities to ramp up their services to survivors. The 2018 Continuum of Care (CoC) Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) includes $50 million in “bonus” funds for projects that will meet the needs of survivors of domestic violence. These funds can be used for the following types of projects:

  • Rapid Re-housing
  • Projects that combine Transitional Housing with Rapid Re-housing (often called TH/RRH joint component)
  • Supportive Services Only (SSO) funds to improve Coordinated Entry for Survivors (both integrated and parallel system coordinated entry)

CoCs may apply for projects of all three types (but only one project of each type). HUD will weigh the following criteria when evaluating proposals for the targeted domestic violence funding:

  • Overall CoC application score
  • Demonstrated need for the project in the homeless service system — and how the project will meet that need
  • Previous performance in serving survivors of domestic violence and ability to house survivors and meet safety goals

When making decisions about how to allocate resources, CoCs are encouraged to make investments that will help the overall performance of the homeless service system in reducing homelessness for all people — including survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking. This should hold true when considering how best to use domestic violence bonus funds.  

How can homeless service systems work better for survivors?

To serve survivors, the homeless system must offer a safe place to go for someone fleeing or attempting to flee violence. Too often, survivors reach out to domestic violence crisis housing programs only to be told that shelters are full or that there are no longer-term housing options available in the domestic violence housing continuum. This may lead survivors into unsafe options such as entering a homeless service program ill-equipped to serve them or remaining with an abusive partner.

Ensuring flow through domestic violence programs is critical so that beds regularly become available for those newly fleeing crisis and survivors have the support they require to return to the stability of permanent housing. Each of the eligible funding options can help promote flow and choosing the best option depends on an assessment of the local homeless service system. 

Rapid Re-Housing

A key goal of rapid re-housing is to minimize the time people are homeless through helping them return to permanent housing as quickly as possible. This has the effect of improving flow through the homeless system. When people exit shelter programs more rapidly, shelter resources are freed up to help other people in crisis. If survivors were able to receive tailored services to help them reconnect to housing (housing search assistance, rental assistance and follow-up case management services including support to repair credit and connection to legal services), how would that impact length of stays in domestic violence programs? In turn, how would a reduction in length of stays in domestic violence programs address some of the local capacity gaps in crisis housing for survivors? This could result in fewer survivors in crisis being denied shelter assistance when they need it. The answers to these questions can be used to document need and impact for the project type in the NOFA application.

TH/RRH Joint Component

The TH/RRH joint component option would fund a combined transitional housing and rapid re-housing intervention for survivors. Survivors can reside in transitional housing as long as they desire (up to 24 months) and are offered rapid re-housing upon exit. A goal of many CoC leaders is to expand local crisis housing options across the homeless service system. The TH/RRH joint component can achieve this as many stays in transitional housing are already quite short and can be further minimized when households have assistance reconnecting to housing. While an investment in the TH/RRH joint component will not reach as many households as investing in rapid re-housing alone, it is a compelling choice if reducing length of stays cannot solve the unmet need for crisis housing. It has the added benefit of allowing survivors to choose longer stays in temporary housing when they determine it is necessary and to exit as soon as they desire.

The domestic violence “bonus” funding in the 2018 NOFA can be used to fund an existing renewal project if it will provide new opportunities for survivors. This allows localities to hold on to and rethink the use of existing temporary housing stock.

SSO Projects for Coordinated Entry (SSO-CE)

Additional resources may have very little impact on the overall performance of the homeless service system if the system is not working in a coherent and strategic way. Supportive Services Only (SSO) grants can be used to fund services and staff time that are not explicitly linked with helping people access or retain housing. The NOFA allows CoCs to apply for SSO-CE funds under the domestic violence bonus “to implement policies, procedures, and practices that equip the CoC’s coordinated entry to better meet the needs of survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, [trafficking], or stalking.” This includes ensuring that survivors have fair access to housing resources to exit homelessness and that services are provided in a trauma-informed manner. The funds can be used to improve coordinated entry systems that include both homeless and domestic violence providers as well as parallel coordinated entry systems for domestic violence programs. Coordinated entry systems are also required to have procedures in place when survivors require an emergency transfer from an existing housing placement to another safe alternative. Investing in strategic planning with SSO resources can help localities improve performance and system flow by streamlining referral processes from domestic violence programs to other housing interventions.

Facilitating Collaboration Between Domestic Violence Providers and Homeless Services

Collaboration, when done effectively, can be highly rewarding for both the domestic violence and homeless service system, and more importantly, the survivors both systems serve. Strong partnerships between homeless service systems and the domestic violence services and advocacy community ensures the expertise and resources of both systems are fully utilized to support survivors.

Domestic violence survivors face risks that other households do not, including abusive partners who may work to undermine their employment and thus their ability to pay for housing. Their credit and rental histories may also be badly damaged due to the actions of their former partner. There are often serious safety concerns for survivors and their children that may warrant longer stays in confidential and secure temporary housing programs. Survivors may lack information about a wide range of legal protections and policy tools that exist to promote their safety. Knowledge about how to navigate these and many other issues are one of the clear benefits of fully integrating domestic violence expertise into local homeless service systems and to support victim service providers in providing CoC funded housing programs. Failure to fully understand and address the concerns of survivors can lead to disrupted housing placements, high returns to homelessness — and can put survivors in unnecessary danger.

Collaboration with homeless service systems also has clear benefits for survivors and domestic violence advocates and leaders. Homeless service systems have developed significant skills navigating challenging housing markets, providing flexible financial assistance as part of a rapid re-housing intervention, and providing support to help households stabilize in housing. It is very challenging work, but it is work that can minimize an individual’s experience of homelessness and the trauma that inherently accompanies it. Helping survivors return to the security of housing safely can be a significant step toward their recovery. Promoting efficiency in the use of resources, and helping survivors minimize stays in temporary housing (when safe and appropriate to do so) can help ensure domestic violence shelter programs can accommodate people in crisis.