Finding Shelter: Addressing Housing Challenges for Survivors of Domestic Violence

Here are some communities that have implemented innovative strategies to provide housing for this at-risk population.

BLOG POST | Oct 29, 2018
Suburban homes aerial view

by Rebecca DeSantis, content and engagement coordinator, ICMA

As we come to the end of October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, it is important to reflect on an issue that communities can face when combatting domestic violence: housing for survivors. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women and children. More shockingly, according to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control Prevention, more than half (51.5 percent) of domestic violence victims who identified a need for housing services did not receive them. This is a challenge that local governments are working to address, knowing that a lack of shelter or temporary housing can increase survivors’ vulnerability.

To conclude our commemoration of National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, we highlight some of the important steps that local governments around the country and abroad have taken to address housing challenges for survivors of domestic violence.

Orange County, Florida

Central Florida agencies working with victims of domestic violence reported that this past summer was particularly difficult in terms of housing challenges. Harbor House of Orange County, which is the largest shelter in the region, found itself at full capacity for most of the summer months and turning to alternative solutions for families in need. Although the region has many shelters for survivors, with the continued need for more beds, Orange County, Osceola County, and Seminole County shelters are partnering to apply for a nearly $800,000 federal grant for "rapid rehousing." This would mean that survivors seeking refuge would bypass shelters and go immediately into their own apartments, providing a needed level of security and stability in a time of transition.

Lake County, Illinois

A Safe Place, the Lake County agency that provides services addressing domestic violence, prides itself on its ability to meet clients where they are, whether it be the first call or treatment years later. The agency works hard to combat domestic violence through a whole-community response, which includes an emergency shelter and temporary housing facilities. In 2017, according to its website, 45,212 nights of safe housing in transitional and permanent housing facilities and 7,501 nights of emergency shelter in a 35-bed shelter were provided. Lake County is working hard to reduce the stigma of domestic violence by speaking to the community and providing needed resources to families at risk.

Washington, D.C.

The District Alliance for Safe Housing (DASH) is Washington, D.C.'s largest safe housing provider, and it is seeing an unfortunate increase in the number of domestic violence cases based on a dramatic increase in the number of district residents it serves through housing solutions, financial assistance, and safety planning. According to its website, DASH envisions "a culture where safe housing is a human right shared by everyone." With this mindset, it works to help survivors avoid homelessness by providing a wide range of housing solutions from emergency shelter and temporary housing to finding them apartments where they can sign a lease. DASH receives most clients through referrals, but they also host a weekly clinic in the community to reach more families in need.

Abilene, Texas

The Noah Project of Abilene shelters and cares for victims of family violence in its center, which can accommodate 96 residents. With an increase in care needed for the community, North Project recently announced the creation of a new wing to its facility. The city of Abilene has taken domestic violence concerns seriously and has been working with the Noah Project and other local organizations to target this issue. According to Stan Standridge, chief of police for the Abilene Police Department, "Our goals were many: reduce violence; end domestic violence homicide; shift emphasis from victims to suspects; prosecute offenses even when victims refused to follow through; adopt bond conditions as normative protocols for bond; streamline emergency protective orders; and increase awareness."

Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, and Stockton, California

As part of the CityLinks partnership managed by ICMA and funded by USAID, the department of Alta Verapaz, Guatemala, and the city of Stockton, California, were partnered together to connect officials in identifying and implementing solutions to local crime and violence. One of the priorities of this partnership was to help Alta Verapaz, which is located in a region of high rates of domestic violence, create strategies to shelter women and children who are victims of domestic violence. As part of this exchange, Dr. Joelle Gomez, director of the Women's Center Youth & Family Services in Stockton shared the center's experience providing shelters for homeless and runaway survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking, among its other services. These types of partnerships help share best practices around providing housing for survivors of domestic violence.

There are communities worldwide finding innovative strategies to providing housing for survivors of domestic violence. For more information on places doing this work, check out these resources:

Alternative Strategies to Reduce Domestic Violence: Top Five Takeaways

Janesville - Domestic Violence Intervention Team

Building Bridges to Safety: A Coordinated Community Response to Domestic Violence


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