Domestic Violence Awareness Month, recognized in October, provides an opportunity to reflect upon the impact of domestic violence on our neighbors, the extent of the problem, and its solutions.
The impact of domestic violence is not unknown to homeless service providers: research consistently shows that high numbers of people experiencing homelessness have also survived domestic violence. For some it is in their past, while it is the most immediate cause of homelessness for others.
Despite the wide recognition that domestic violence contributes to individual and family homelessness, the two systems that serve these populations are often siloed. The door to assistance that a survivor enters – whether that be a domestic violence (DV) shelter or a homeless shelter – may determine what forms of help they will receive. Being in one system may create challenges in accessing the resources and support of the other, and many people in the homeless and domestic violence service fields are working to change this through improving system coordination.
Over the last year, we have seen significant new federal investments to respond to the urgent needs of people impacted by the pandemic. With the infusion of new funds, states and localities are expanding their services to people at risk of (or currently experiencing) homelessness, as well as services for those who are survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. As leaders in both service communities ramp up their response with their new resources, there is an opportunity to explore how to leverage the resources and expertise of one another’s service systems.
A Time of New Opportunities – Housing!
National, state, and local advocates are working to maximize the use of new federal housing resources, including Emergency Rental Assistance, Emergency Housing Choice Vouchers and HOME Homeless Assistance to help people at highest risk of, or currently experiencing, homelessness.
HOME Homeless Assistance and Emergency Housing Choice Vouchers can provide permanent housing assistance to at-risk and homeless people, including people fleeing domestic violence. It provides a unique opportunity to assist those who have experienced long-term, chronic, and unsheltered homelessness.
Over the last few years, the proportion of single women (unaccompanied by children) experiencing homelessness has grown. Extraordinarily high numbers of unsheltered women and transgender individuals have experienced domestic, intimate partner, and other sexual violence. This is often one of multiple traumatic events they have experienced in their lives, including racialized trauma and the experiences that so often accompany dislocation and homelessness. The expertise of practitioners trained in working with individuals who have experienced complex trauma could be highly beneficial in facilitating transitions into housing, and promoting safety and well-being post-housing placement.
The U.S. Treasury also awarded nearly $50 billion to states and localities to assist people at risk of eviction and homelessness due to the pandemic. In addition to helping leaseholders retain their housing, these funds can be used to help people in more informal housing arrangements, such as families who are now living in doubled up situations or families who may be living in motels after losing their housing. In addition, the funds can be used to help people currently experiencing (or are about to experience) homelessness acquire new housing and provide prospective rent assistance.
Leaders in both homeless and domestic violence service communities have identified the benefits to helping people avoid entering shelter whenever possible, and helping people experiencing homelessness quickly reconnect to housing. Whether the strategy deployed is homelessness diversion, rapid re-housing or DV Housing First, there is an opportunity to work together to ensure Emergency Rental Assistance reaches some of the families at greatest risk of homelessness, as well as those who currently are without safe homes. When implementing interventions to help people retain or regain housing, the expertise of each system can afford benefits when leveraged on behalf of clients assisted in the other.
New Specialized Services to Assist Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
With funding from the American Rescue Plan, the Administration will award nearly $1 billion to help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. Just this week, an announcement was made of $550 million in new funding to help improve access to COVID19 testing and vaccinations for survivors, including through partnerships across systems of care. The American Rescue Plan also included $180 million for domestic violence programs, $198 million for programs serving survivors of sexual assault to make those services more accessible through transitioning to virtual support modalities, and $49.5 million to support culturally specific interventions for survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence to address emerging needs as a result of COVID-19.
These new resources will allow domestic violence and sexual assault service providers to expand and enrich survivors’ supports to reach people they otherwise would not have, though the funds will not be sufficient to meet all of the supports survivors require. Many will need help to preserve their housing, even if their abusive partner is no longer present. Many will need help to identify and retain new housing, avoiding or minimizing shelter stays whenever it is safe and their desire to do so.
As domestic violence and sexual assault service programs are expanded and enriched, they can develop partnerships to leverage each other’s expertise and resources. Housing and homeless service providers can assist people lacking safe alternatives, and in turn, the domestic violence and sexual assault system can provide expertise in supporting highly traumatized and vulnerable people.
People experiencing homelessness and people fleeing domestic violence do not always have distinct needs. They are very often the same people, simply held distinct by which service system they reach first. We can provide the best, most comprehensive interventions when we leverage the expertise and resources of both systems of care to support them.