Last night NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams ran a short news segment about two homeless families. It was a rare instance of a national television network sharing with the nation the plight of homeless families and the issues they face.
One of the families spotlighted in the program received shelter from a church program that required them to move to a different church every week; while the other family faced the threat of being broken up because of the scarcity of shelters that accommodate large families or families with older male children.
A particularly heartbreaking image from the segment that has stuck with me is of the nine-year-old daughter of the first family tightly clutching a pink Popsicle stick bird house that reminded her of the home she used to have.
As a nation, we have a responsibility to prevent children like her from falling into homelessness, or to divert them from becoming homeless, whenever possible. Where prevention or diversion fails, we must reduce the trauma they experience by re-housing homeless families as quickly as possible.
We know that rapid re-housing is a successful and cost-effective intervention for family homelessness. Unfortunately, as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan points out in this story, we need more resources to meet the increases in family homelessness.
Last month I had the opportunity to attend a training workshop on rapidly re-housing survivors of domestic violence. The workshop was conducted by Kris Billhardt, Director of Volunteers of America, Oregon’s Home Free program, who is a longtime advocate and has worked in the movement against domestic violence for nearly three decades. Her program has achieved some impressive results. From 2010 to 2011, 90 percent of the survivors who received Housing First services from Home Free attained safe, permanent housing, and 80 percent remain safely housed 12 months after exiting the program.
If you want to learn more about Home Free, you can read this best practice paper on Home Free, check out our domestic violence toolkit, or contact Kris about conducting a training workshop in your community.
Home Free’s philosophy is to give every domestic violence survivor a chance. The initial assessment they conduct is not about screening people out of the program; instead it’s about discovering any barriers that may keep the survivor from housing. Kris noted that it is impossible to know immediately who will be successful and who will not. People are resourceful, and can often surprise us. For this reason, the intake process at Home Free is minimally-intrusive and conversational. The advocate serves as a partner, and lets the survivor lead the way in determining how much help she needs to end her homelessness.
Home Free also uses a voluntary service model. This allows their advocates to individualize the way services are delivered and treats survivors as experts in their own lives. Kris noted that mandatory services may have unintended consequences for survivors, like reminding them of a controlling abuser. Additionally, the program’s staff appreciate the way survivors respond to voluntary services. “People are really forthright,” Kris quoted one of Home Free’s advocates as saying, “because we don’t set up situations where they have to lie to us or lose access to services by asking for help around stigmatized issues.”
Today’s guest blog post was contributed by the Ankita Patel of the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
I’ve been working on Domestic Violence Housing First for a couple of years now. But I also have a lot of experience working with immigrants. In general, I’ve found that trying to address the needs of immigrant survivors by just tweaking a mainstream system isn’t enough. One of my favorite things about Domestic Violence Housing First is that the flexibility of the housing first model allows individually tailored services that encompass a person’s culture as well as their unique needs and situation.
For example, one of the pillars of our work in Domestic Violence Housing First has been tailored, mobile advocacy. This approach involves an advocate visiting a survivor’s home rather than requiring the survivor to visit an advocate’s office. So we were caught off-guard when an advocate from another provider serving immigrants told us that her version of tailored, mobile advocacy sometimes meant inviting survivors to her office. Initially, that didn’t make sense to me.
Turns out, one immigrant she works with prefers to meet at her office, and with Domestic Violence Housing First money, the advocate can cover her transportation costs to get there.
This advocate shared that in the immigrant survivor’s culture, it would be considered rude for the survivor not to provide food or drinks for a meeting at home. When survivors are focused on retaining their housing, the cost of being hospitable causes pressure and stress. So the advocate focused on making her office hospitable and their meetings comfortable. This was a great reminder to me of how important it is not to get locked into any one way of doing things. We are practicing a philosophy in which we learn to cater to the individual needs of survivors.
Survivors tell me that the tailored services that advocates provide has allowed them to regain a sense of dignity, while advocates report that the flexibility of this model has empowered them to listen to survivors and offer support that meets the needs of the person in front of them.
Today’s guest blog post was contributed by Caroline Jones, Executive Director for Doorways for Women and Families.
Many of us know of October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We have become accustomed to seeing pink everywhere and hearing the public services announcements in the Fall. Fewer people are aware that October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I often lament the fact that these two critical women’s issues have to share just one month of the year, as both deserve our full attention 365 days a year.
The extensive reach of domestic violence is shocking. Today, one in four women and girls will experience domestic violence at some point in their life. Yet this epidemic rarely makes the local or national news unless it affects a celebrity or public figure. We hear their voices, but we don’t hear the voices of the millions of women – and men – who suffer daily with sexual, emotional, psychological, financial and physical abuse. What if the only place you had to call home was where someone was causing you and your children harm? Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness among women because victims are often left with a difficult choice: either stay with the abuser or become homeless.
In a perfect world, a survivor of domestic violence would be able to continue living safely in her home and her abuser would be made to leave. Indeed, survivors who file for protective orders can add clauses that allow them to stay at home. Unfortunately, that’s not always a viable option. To remain in their homes, single women and mothers must shoulder the sudden burden of paying the mortgage and household bills on their own, and they sometimes have little work experience or money. Survivors also often need to leave their homes for safety. If an abuser knows where their ex-partner is living, he may re-victimize her with physical abuse, psychological abuse, or stalking.
At Doorways for Women and Families we are keenly aware of this link between domestic violence and homelessness. We see it daily among the women and families we serve. Through our 24-hour Domestic Violence Hotline and 11-bed Domestic Violence Safehouse, we address both domestic violence and homelessness because neither issue can be solved without dealing with the other. Beyond immediate shelter, we offer a comprehensive approach that provides supportive housing and life-changing support services, including financial education and empowerment, counseling, and one-on-one children’s mental health services.
For decades, the top priority in national policies and systems that respond to homeless survivors of domestic violence has been the provision of confidential emergency shelter. It has not been until recently that longer-term, safe and independent housing resources have been recognized as best practices.
Now national policies and systems are responding in ways that reach survivors who need targeted housing assistance to prevent the recurrence of violence and end their homelessness. Today we recognize homeless survivors of domestic violence as a priority sub-population of the overall population of people experiencing homelessness, one that is best served with housing assistance and support services. Now, in many communities, such as the one we serve here in Arlington, these policies are shining a light on a link that is so clear in the eyes of the families and survivors we see every day.
Homelessness and domestic violence have been part of our society for centuries. These problems are rooted in complex social issues, with no singular cause. They are driven in part by unfair wages, child abuse, gender inequality, educational gaps, and many other factors. One might look at this list and feel hopeless. But at Doorways, we know what is possible.
Our clients have taught us many times over. Beginning with a safe place to stay and continuing with targeted services to address families’ needs, we can create pathways out of domestic violence and homelessness toward safe and stable lives.
The conference will take place this February at the Sheraton Seattle Hotel in Seattle, Wash., where 800 to 900 attendees are expected to convene to share and learn about the latest tools and the most effective solutions going in the homeless assistance field today. We are in the midst of the planning process, and working hard to make sure you get the most out of the experience.
Although the conference website is always being updated, you can always find important details about the conference, including the conference agenda, registration rates, hotel information, travel information, as well as important information about scholarship and volunteer opportunities. We will be posting more information as it becomes available.
We encourage you register early to take advantage of the early rate for substantial savings. The deadline for early registration is 3 p.m. ET, Monday, Dec. 17. If you are registering by mail, your form must be postmarked on or before Monday, December 17.
For organizations sending three or more individuals to the conference, the early registration cost for the first two registrants to attend the conference is $425 per person. For each additional individual, the fee is $375.
For more information about deadlines and fees for other registration rates, please see the conference website registration rates page. You can also keep up with Alliance news on our blog, on our Facebook page, on Twitter and in our newsletter, where we will be posting updates and reminders as these dates approach.
We hope to see you in Seattle this February!
Today’s guest blog was contributed by Peg Hacskaylo, the Executive Director of the District Alliance for Safe Housing, Inc. (DASH), the largest dedicated housing provider for victims of domestic and sexual violence in the District of Columbia. For more information about DASH, visit www.dashdc.org.
Trudy had been living in an apartment with her boyfriend and their son for about 2 years when the abuse from her boyfriend became more frequent and more intense. She wanted to move out but couldn’t afford to live on her income from her job as a cashier at a local retail store. One night, when her boyfriend had another violent outburst, Trudy called the police. When they arrived, an advocate was with them to help her determine what services she needed. She said she couldn’t stay in their home because, if her boyfriend went to jail, she couldn’t afford the rent and, if her boyfriend was released, she wouldn’t feel safe there. So the advocate placed her and her son in a hotel paid for by compensation available to crime victims. She could stay at the hotel for up to 30 days while she tried to figure out what she would do.
By her second week in the hotel, Trudy had called every resource given to her to find another place to live, to no avail. She finally went to the city’s intake center for homeless families but they told her that she wasn’t considered homeless because she wasn’t living in a shelter or on the streets. By the end of the month, Trudy went back to live with her boyfriend, who had been released from jail, because she had run out of time and had nowhere else to go.
But when her boyfriend’s abuse continued, Trudy again began searching for another place to live. She reached out to the local battered women’s shelters and was eventually able to get space for herself and her son for up to 90 days. When her time there was about to run out, she again went to the central intake center, only to be told that she was still ineligible for housing because the shelter she was living in wasn’t part of the city’s homeless housing system. Trudy left the shelter to live in a friend’s basement until she could figure out her next step.
Stories like Trudy’s are all too common in the District of Columbia and throughout the U.S. Women are one of the fastest growing groups of homeless people in the country (Goodman, Fels, & Glen, 2011), and domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness among single women and women with children (National Coalition for the Homeless, 2005). In one large-scale study, 92 percent of homeless mothers reported experiencing sexual or physical abuse in their lifetimes (Browne & Bassuk, 1997). The limited availability of safe and affordable housing options frequently results in women falling into homelessness after exiting abusive situations (National Institute of Justice, 2008), and homelessness dramatically increases their risk of suffering episodes of sexual assault and other kinds of abuse (Goodman, Fels, & Glen, 2011).
When we founded the District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) in 2006, our initial plan was to create a safe emergency-to-transitional housing facility for survivors of domestic violence. At the time, the demand for housing for victims displaced from their homes was overwhelming and the resources to meet the need were scarce. The D.C. police annually received over 30,000 calls for domestic violence incidents and approximately 1,200 families were being placed in hotels for lack of available emergency shelter beds. There were then a total of 48 beds for women and children escaping abuse and fewer than 200 units of transitional and long-term housing for families exiting shelter.
We soon realized, therefore, that our primary objective would help only a fraction of those who needed it. We spoke to women on a daily basis who told us that they needed help not just accessing safe housing programs, but permanent safe housing. We heard from advocates that survivors needed help keeping their permanent subsidized housing or getting into affordable, rental housing. We needed a broader strategy to solve this problem.
Our strategy, a combined effort on three fronts to achieve greater housing accessibility for survivors from shelters to permanent housing, involves:
- Creating additional safe housing
- Facilitating access to existing housing programs
- Preventing victims’ fall into homelessness
Under this strategy we worked with homeless and housing providers to ensure their housing was accessible and safe for victims. We worked with landlords to ensure they didn’t inadvertently discriminate against victims in rental housing. And we worked with domestic violence service providers to help them advocate for victims in the District’s complex housing system. As our strategy developed, so did our programs, and soon we had a continuum of housing support for survivors, wherever they turn for help.
Notably, our strategy has evolved into something more than just creating more, and more responsive, housing for women and families. It’s become about changing the way we see the problem, which lies directly at the intersection of domestic violence and homeless/housing services. Because at that nexus there is a disconnect that creates a sort of double-jeopardy for victims – putting them further at-risk of homelessness and abuse. We learned that domestic violence service providers and homeless service providers function in numerous parallel ways – in the same jurisdiction, with many of the same sources of funding, and almost always serving the same clients – but generally remain siloed and apart.
Domestic violence service providers traditionally focus on crisis intervention with victims, with an emphasis on protecting them from the threat of violence. Homeless and housing providers traditionally have focused on protecting their programs from the potential for transience, in the belief that survivors of domestic violence won’t last in their programs because they will leave to reconcile with their abusers, and the threat of violence that survivors present, thereby screening survivors out of their programs. While these concerns may be legitimate, they may also serve to keep women in perpetually unstable situations or force them to return to abusive homes for lack of other safe housing options.
Fortunately, with the advent of Rapid Re-Housing and Trauma-Informed service models, both domestic violence and housing/homeless service providers have excellent tools to begin addressing this gap. At DASH, we help families move into permanent housing units straight from crisis and bypass the range of emergency, transitional, and permanent housing programs, allowing them to “transition in place” and facilitating moves for families at-risk of imminent violence to other units within the city. We also work with survivors to help them cope with the trauma they’ve experienced and regain a sense of self-determination. And all of this is accompanied by constant Wellness and Safety planning to help survivors effectively ensure their own safety from abuse.
The elimination of homelessness is the express goal of advocates, funders, and governments across the country and has been for a long time now. And while a good deal of progress has been made in getting individuals and families housed, preventing their fall into homelessness, and increasing the availability of options across the housing spectrum, victims of domestic and sexual violence have, until now, seemed to defy conventional wisdom. With these new models of service, this doesn’t need to be the case – not for Trudy or anyone else.
 Not her real name, based on a true story.
The following article originally appeared in the Missing and Exploited Children’s Program Newsletter, October 1, 2012.
Although current data on the extent of youth homelessness are limited, previous studies have estimated that approximately 1.7 million youth under the age of 18 have run away or are homeless in the United States each year. Several factors contribute to young people leaving home. One of the primary factors is intense family conflict, which can take the form of physical abuse, sexual abuse, or non-acceptance of a youth’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
When young people are out of the home unaccompanied and trying to navigate life on the streets, they become susceptible to many horrors, including commercial sexual exploitation (CSE) and trafficking. Estimates are that some 2.2 percent of children under the age of 18 who have a runaway or homeless episode — approximately 39,000 children annually — are sexually assaulted or become victims of CSE.
The relationship between youth homelessness and CSE and/or trafficking arguably begins as soon as a youth leaves home. The Dallas Police Department has found that the more times a youth runs away from home, the more likely that youth is to be victimized. Unaccompanied youth living on the street are particularly vulnerable to such victimization because they are not in a position to meet their immediate needs for food, shelter and safety. This makes them a target for people who may exploit them. A study of shelter and street youth indicated that approximately 28 percent of street youth and 10 percent of youth in shelters reported trading sex (called survival sex) to meet their basic needs.
Oftentimes the discussion about sexual exploitation among homeless youth overlooks males, who are also at risk for CSE. Many of those who are exploited and recruited for trafficking self-identify as gay or bisexual. Although the dynamics of providing services and shelter to young men is different (including the response by the justice system), more gender inclusive policies must be developed to effectively house, treat and protect male survivors. Nationally, fewer than 100 beds are designed specifically to meet the needs of survivors of exploitation.
The National Alliance to End Homelessness believes that minimizing the time youth and young adults are homeless can reduce their risk of sexual exploitation. Communities can implement a number of strategies to achieve this goal. First, we can ensure that youth exiting the foster care and/or juvenile justice system are not discharged into homelessness. Thoughtful strategic planning can prevent that outcome. Second, we must improve our crisis response to runaway youth and youth on the street to help move them quickly into safety and out of harm’s way. Third, we can implement family intervention strategies that will help prevent youth from running away in the first place and help those who have run away to return home when it is safe to do so. Finally, we must increase investments in housing for youth who are unable to return home. All of our programs and services need to recognize the special needs of survivors of CSE and trafficking.
October is domestic violence awareness month, which presents us with an opportunity to reflect on how domestic violence impacts the lives of people we serve. Many people enter the homeless service system fleeing domestic violence, and many more have experienced domestic violence in their past. As we work to improve our local homeless service system, we need to ensure that it is responsive to the needs of these survivors.
HUD is now requiring communities to establish a coordinated entry and assessment process for homeless services. As communities begin this important work, it is critical that the needs of survivors of domestic violence are not overlooked. Homeless system planners should consult with domestic violence experts as they develop coordinated assessment procedures. Ideally, local domestic violence partners should be involved in the day-to-day work of establishing a coordinated assessment process and ensuring that the safety, confidentiality, and well-being of survivors are protected.
We at the National Alliance to End Homelessness invite you to review resources which are already available on our website about preventing and ending homelessness for domestic violence survivors. Checklist: Incorporating Domestic Violence Providers into a Coordinated Assessment Process and Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing for Survivors of Domestic Violence may be of particular value as planners begin to develop a coordinated assessment process.
More resources, including webinarson on Homelessness Prevention for Survivors of Domestic Violence and Successful Partnerships to Serve Survivors of Domestic Violence are available on the Domestic Violence page of the Alliance website.
In recognition of domestic violence awareness month, we plan to feature guest blogs from domestic violence providers and advocates who are helping to transform their community’s response to survivors in order to help them stay safe and avoid lengthy periods of homelessness. We invite you to share your community’s successes in promoting the safety and well-being of domestic violence survivors while also helping to end their homelessness.
The U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH) recently released an amendment to Opening Doors, the federal strategic plan to prevent and end homelessness. The amendment, which USICH officials developed with its federal partners, addresses the education needs of children experiencing homelessness and provides strategies to solve the problem of homelessness amongst youth.
The amendment, which calls for data, more research, more resources, systems-level thinking, and true collaborations across systems and disciplines, adds depth and context to the administration’s current thinking on what’s needed to address these issues.
This new perspective comes from two models included in the amendment, one that outlines a new strategy for obtaining more accurate data on youth, and another, which shows the administration’s framework for ending youth homelessness, which was released in conjunction with USICH’s June 2012 council meeting.
The new amendment:
- Adds robust language on obtaining a more comprehensive understanding of the scope of youth homelessness;
- Outlines new strategies for increasing access to education for unaccompanied youth and improving their educational outcomes;
- Adds a new emphasis on increasing access for unaccompanied youth to early childhood education programs;
- Adds a new focus on awareness among practitioners of the importance of child and youth development;
- Outlines new strategies to support healthy child and youth development within housing programs;and
- Adds a new focus on advancing the health and housing stability for youth experiencing homelessness and youth exiting the foster care and juvenile justice systems.
We still have a lot of work to do if we are to end youth homelessness by 2020. However, this amendment speaks to the administration’s overall commitment to children and youth experiencing homelessness.
Now it’s time for us to determine what housing models and support services are the most effective for youth who are unable to return home or be reconnected with their families through family intervention.
We need to improve the crisis response mechanism for getting youth off of the street and connected to services. And lastly, we need to size these resources and bring them to scale for universal implementation – before 2020.
Yesterday the U.S. Census released data on income, poverty, and health insurance coverage in 2011. By now you’ve seen the headlines: the poverty rate has leveled off at 15 percent after three years of increasing and remains at the highest level since 1993, while median income has declined by 1.5 percent, which means that the middle class continues to feel the strain of the bad economy. More people are covered by health insurance (1.4 million more than in 2010), which is certainly welcome news, since the number of people with health insurance has been going down for the last 10 years. But while poverty has leveled off, it remains at historically high levels, and children continue to be disproportionately impacted. We could be doing a lot more.
- 16.1 million children in the U.S. lived in poverty in 2011—that’s more than one in five children.
- Young children in families headed by a single mother were hardest hit: 57.6 percent of children under the age of 6 in families headed by a single mother live in poverty.
- Over 7 million children live in deep poverty, subsisting on less than $1,000 a month for a family of four ($11,511 annually) – that’s 9.8 percent of all children in the U.S.
- And deep poverty is much more prevalent among very young children, with 11.8 percent of all children under the age of 6 living in families with incomes below half the poverty level.
We know social benefits can help lift people out of poverty. One example is Social Security benefits. Social Security benefits have lifted 14.5 million adults age 65 and older out of poverty. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) reduced poverty for 3 million children, even though they’re still included in the 16 million children living in poverty reported in the Census poverty data since it excludes income from the EITC. That’s a start (a good one).
The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program could do more. The program provides states with resources to support low-income families so children can be cared for in their own homes and helps parents connect to employment. How well is it working? Not as well as it could be. States choose how they use TANF resources and sets benefit levels, which are currently insufficient to lift most families without other sources of income out of deep poverty, never mind out of poverty altogether.
States could do more. States could increase TANF benefit levels and allow families on TANF who are employed to keep more of their earnings. Many families living in poverty are not accessing TANF benefits at all, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. States could reduce the number of families without income from work or TANF benefits by helping families enroll quickly on TANF and meet program requirements.
States could also do more to help people on TANF connect to employment. States predominately rely on a narrow set of tools to help people on TANF prepare for, and enter, the workforce. For too many families, particularly in an economy with high unemployment, these tools simply aren’t enough.
But there’s been some progress on this front. In July, the Administration released an Information Memorandum inviting states to submit applications for waivers. Under these waivers, states can test new strategies to increase the number of families on TANF who transition to employment. This is an opportunity for states to improve how they use welfare resources to help reduce the number of children living in deep poverty.
And that’s a big step in the right direction, because perhaps the most effective strategy to lift children out of poverty is to help their parents find employment.