Tag Archives: homelessness

New HUD Report Illuminates Options for Survivors of Domestic Violence

This week, the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), in partnership with Vanderbilt University, released the short-term findings of their Family Options Study, which followed more than 2,000 families experiencing homelessness over an 18 month period. Their research evaluated the effect of several types of interventions on housing stability and the well-being of homeless adults and children. The families in the sample were randomly assigned one of the interventions: housing choice vouchers, community-based rapid rehousing, project based transitional housing, and care as usual. The study found that housing choice vouchers, which grant families permanent subsidies to use in the private housing market, had the greatest effectiveness. While the vouchers were of similar cost or less expensive than the other interventions, they decreased rates of future homelessness, lowered psychological distress and improved mental health. They were also shown to decrease the prevalence of domestic violence. In the six months prior to the survey, families receiving housing choice vouchers had half the incidents of domestic violence as those families receiving care as usual. This result supports earlier HUD qualitative research in which housing subsidy recipients reported that their subsidies helped them escape abusive situations and establish new lives independently.

More effective services are essential to ensure that every domestic violence survivor has the opportunity to access safe housing. In the new HUD study, nearly half of their sample had experienced physical abuse or threats of physical abuse from an intimate partner. Other studies have found even higher rates of violence:  one study in Massachusetts found that 63% of homeless women were victims of intimate partner violence. Other studies have found that between 22 and 57% of women become homeless as a direct result of domestic violence or sexual assault.

Although domestic violence survivors make up a disproportionate share of homeless individuals, they do not always receive the services they need. In 2014, a 24 hour census of domestic violence service providers across the country found that although around 36,000 women were receiving residential services, another 6,126 women were turned away in a single day, largely due to lack of funding and limited resources. The ability for survivors of domestic violence to access housing assistance after leaving an abusive situation is critical. Abusers often isolate their victims from social support, so they may not have friends or family who could take them in. In addition, abusers will frequently control their victims’ finances, limit their access to cash and credit, and prevent them from working, so they may have little or no money available to pay for another place to stay. Without access to shelter, they may have few other options than to sleep on the streets or in their car or return to their abuser. Studies in two different cities found that 44% of homeless women have stayed in abusive relationships because they had nowhere else to go.

The need for improved services and better funding for homeless individuals fleeing domestic violence is clear. Domestic violence survivors need secure, stable housing options to keep them safe from harm and to help them begin to rebuild their lives. Research like HUD’s Family Options Study is an encouraging step in identifying innovative and cost-effective methods of enabling housing security and preventing future incidents of domestic violence. While the long-term results of the study will not be released until 2017, these early findings lay the groundwork for smarter housing policies and more informed services for families experiencing homelessness.


Inspired in the Field

The barriers to housing that survivors of domestic and sexual violence face, including loss of income, housing evictions and ruined credit, are numerous and deeply rooted, which makes domestic violence to be a leading cause of homelessness. However, there are several organizations across the country that effectively address the correlation between violence and homelessness, and that offer empowering services to assist survivors in rebuilding their lives. I recently had the great opportunity to visit one such program. While accompanying WOW’s new Director of Policy and Advocacy, Robin Runge, on a site tour of the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH), I was able to learn more about how the largest housing provider for battered women in Washington, DC prevents violence and offers comprehensive services to survivors.

DASH’s approach of working with survivors of domestic and sexual violence on their own terms so that they achieve their personal goals for the future has proven to be an innovative way to break the cycle of violence. It empowers survivors to lead their own process toward future stability increasing their likelihood of achieving economic security and safety. DASH supports survivors to transition out of homelessness through multiple innovative programs:

  • Survivors and their children are offered relief through an emergency and transitional safe housing program called the Cornerstone Building. The program has low barriers to entry, meaning there are few requirements a survivor has to meet to move in; therefore the program doesn’t turn survivors away because of their addiction to drugs or alcohol – often the individuals most in need. Once in one of DASH’S 43 units, survivors are asked to sign a lease. This experience allows them to develop the critical skills of reviewing and abiding by a rental contract, which will help in the transition to independent living once they move out.  Services for survivors include intensive supportive services from advocates or case workers, substance abuse counseling and referrals to community agencies.
  • DASH’s Empowerment Project addresses the severe economic challenges survivors face to becoming stable by providing a scattered site subsidy program. For example, domestic violence relationships can tarnish survivors’ credit and rental histories, making it hard to find a landlord willing to rent to them. At DASH survivors have the opportunity to rent an apartment from a landlord with a relationship with DASH, while receiving a subsidy and intensive services during the transition to independent living. Furthermore, the Empowerment Project offers participants employment support services to help them with career planning.
  • In response to the high correlation between homelessness and domestic and sexual violence, DASH’s Housing Resource Center provides prevention services, self-advocacy tools and resources. Survivors can meet one-on-one with a Housing Specialists to search and apply for housing and navigate the public housing system.
  • DASH shares its expertise to improve the capacity of other community based organizations and housing programs through technical assistance and training. Using a model called Domestic Violence Informed Safe Housing, DASH helps other programs to provide services that address the needs of survivors of trauma, such as counseling and safety planning.
  • DASH also focuses on public policy to increase access to safe housing and trains advocates and survivors about housing rights.

Since 2009, WOW has partnered with DASH in the work to support survivors in obtaining economic security and safe housing. WOW offers employment counseling and referral resources to the participants of the subsidy program within DASH’s Empowerment Project. Taking advantage of the DC Metro Area Self-Sufficiency Calculator (DCMASSC) WOW staff provides technical assistance to advocates and one-on-one assistance to survivors to make Individualized Economic Security Plans. WOW staff meets with survivors in their homes to create these plans, which include making budgets and identifying and setting financial and career goals.  WOW also facilitates its “Connections to Careers” career and financial literacy workshop series as well as individual employment counseling for participants from the emergency housing program. The collaboration between DASH and WOW highlights the importance of being economically secure with a stable job, emergency savings and safe housing to prevent domestic and sexual violence and avoid homelessness.

To read more about DASH’s innovative programs click here.