The Alliance would like to thank the National Network to End Domestic Violence and all of the domestic violence service providers who contributed to the development and writing of this brief.
In a single day in the United States, more than 37,000 survivors of domestic violence and their children rely on a domestic violence shelter or transitional housing program to meet their needs for safety and shelter. While emergency housing remains an essential element of an adequate domestic violence response, some survivors can avoid homelessness and shelter stays with assistance to stay in their existing housing or find new housing.
Federal resources are helping local communities offer this assistance to survivors. The Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-housing Program (HPRP) and the new Emergency Solutions Grant (ESG) enacted under the HEARTH Act provide communities with significant new resources to prevent homelessness and re-house those who do lose their housing. Additionally, the Office of Violence Against Women in the U.S. Department of Justice administers transitional housing grants that provide flexible rental assistance and case management services.
Using these tools, providers are helping survivors avoid homelessness altogether or quickly re-establish housing in the community to minimize their experience of homelessness. This allows providers to keep emergency shelter available for women and children who need immediate safety and the confidential location a domestic violence shelter provides. Additionally, these strategies minimize the additional stress, displacement, and trauma that accompany homeless episodes for women and children healing from domestic violence.
Homelessness Prevention Strategies for Domestic Violence Survivors
The intersection of homelessness and domestic violence is complex. Many women leave their housing and seek shelter to escape a dangerous partner. Others are evicted from housing due to a batterer’s destructive or criminal behavior, such as damaging property, harassing landlords, failing to pay rent, causing disturbances, and perpetrating physical or sexual assaults in the unit. In some cases, once the batterer is removed by means of eviction or public safety efforts, the remaining tenants must also leave because the unit is no longer affordable. Similarly, a survivor may be unable to pay rent because of actions taken by an abusive partner to undermine her economic stability and ability to live independently. Examples include sabotaging her employment opportunities or attempts to access welfare assistance, failing to pay child support, and damaging her credit. In many cases, however, the survivor’s first choice for herself – and especially for her children – would be to stay in her own home.
The main purpose of homelessness prevention activities is to avoid entirely a disruptive and costly homelessness episode for households. Homelessness prevention can include:
- Financial assistance to pay back rent or utilities,
- Short-term rental assistance until families can resume paying rent independently,
- Case management and legal assistance to help a household remain in its current housing, and
- Assistance to obtain new housing without entering a shelter.
Helping survivors maintain their housing or quickly find new housing decreases their burden of economic hardship, housing instability, and uncertain futures as they work toward establishing safety for them and their children. Increasing capacity to support survivors through prevention assistance aligns with the aim of the domestic violence movement to broaden survivors’ options, create alternatives to remaining in abusive homes, and reduce the degree to which survivors are re-victimized in the aftermath of abuse. Many domestic violence programs are embracing this commitment and enacting programmatic innovations that address survivors’ housing needs. Some provide help with housing costs, advocate for survivors around tenant rights, and intervene with landlords to redress barriers to housing based on domestic violence-related evictions and debt.